YDNPA – an extension too far

My  personal comment on the decision by the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss,  to extend the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks followed by North Yorkshire County Councillor John Blackie’s comment.

Miss Truss’s decision is a theatrical flourish which underlines the fact that the Conservatives are not the ‘party of the countryside’.

The democratic deficit that will be created in August 2016 when the Yorkshire Dales National Park is increased by 24 per cent just shows that the present government cares little for rural voters.  The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority had asked that if the extension went ahead that the membership of the Authority should be increased to include local authority representatives from the newly designated areas. As Cllr John Blackie, pointed out the YDNPA has come away empty handed.

It has also come away empty handed on the financial side for Ms Truss has made no provision for the cost of these extensions. That is a big blow to these two National Parks when they are waiting in fear and trepidation for the next cuts in their grants.

In September the Chief Executive of the YDNPA, David Butterworth, agreed that if there was a 40 per cent cut in the Authority’s budget it would not be able to carry out its statutory responsibilities. The extension alone will probably absorb 30 per cent or more of the Authority’s current budget, before any probable reduction in the 2016/17 DEFRA grant.

And yet Ms Truss believes that the creation of a mega national park will lead to more beautiful countryside being protected. If she wants it to be protected she must take a truly professional approach and make sure that the two Authorities have the money to do the job properly.

I feel very sorry for those living in the areas about to be requisitioned for this piece of political gamesmanship. At present planning decisions affecting their homes and livelihoods come within the remit of district councils. A former National Park planning officer, Mike Warden, pointed out:

‘As a planning authority a National Park is completely devoid of all the other functions that a responsible District Council administers. Any council outside of a National Park has to take into account the matters of  building control, of environmental health, of pollution. of economic development, and most importantly local councils are housing authorities for their areas, which a National Park is not.” National Park planning officers are often more focused on conservation than on the economic and social well being of residents, he said.

Costly planning decisions

This was very apparent when a planning application for a replacement camping site at Kettlewell was turned down in November 2011.  This meant that in 2012 there was no campsite at Kettlewell and the drop in trade had a serious impact upon the village. One pub closed and the village shop came close to closing as well. The situation has improved since a new campsite opened in 2014.

Then there was the case of the farming family in Littondale which, having bought enough land to develop its own farm wanted permission to convert a barn into a farmhouse. But the planning officer recommended that not only should that barn be tied to the farm but also a farmhouse that the family was renting and did not own, and a house that was mortgaged. Many months later and £20,000 poorer the family finally got approval for the barn conversion without those extraordinary conditions.

Or consider the costly mine field another farming family has had to find its way through just to convert an unused traditional barn into an icecream parlour.

The latest example in this sorry saga involves an annex to a converted barn. The YDNPA failed to enforce certain conditions when it was constructed in 2003 and the owner applied for a  certificate of lawful use or development (LDC) in July 2014. The YDNPA issued an enforcement notice in October 2014 and the owner appealed. A year later she heard that her appeal had been successful with the inspector accepting that the annex had been used as an independent and separate dwelling since 2003.

“The sad fact is that the YDNPA should have spared her the 18 months of (at times) mental turmoil and financial disadvantage by admitting from the outset her case was clear and unequivocal because it had failed to enforce the conditions imposed in the original planning approval within the appropriate time limits…” said Cllr Blackie.

Situations like this emphasise the need for residents to have sufficient locally elected representation on a National Park Authority (NPA).  And it shows just what sort of problems residents in the areas designated to join the Yorkshire Dales National Park next year will face.

Part of the problem is that the YDNPA, like other NPAs have had to cut back on staff in the past few years due to the reductions in their grants from Defra. The staff are already over-stretched – what will it be like for them when faced with the additional work load next year?

Affordable homes?

Ms Truss also believes the YDNPA will be able to facilitate the construction of hundreds of new affordable homes. The YDNPA has worked hard for several years to do that only to see its efforts completely undermined by her Government.  Its plans to extend the “right to buy” scheme without any clear and protected exemptions for rural communities will mean that landowners, farmers and parish councils will not be prepared to make land available at low prices. The end result will be that once the affordable rented houses are sold none will be built to replace them.

This will be a complete disaster for rural communities especially as, unbeknown it seems to Ms Truss, the price of open market houses in National Parks is higher than those in neighbouring areas. It doesn’t take much studying of the estate agents adverts to see that she is incorrect in stating that there was “no evidence to suppose that house prices would rise solely as a result of designation.”  This is why so many young people are forced to move out to towns like Skipton and Catterick rather than remaining within their home communities.

Ms Truss believes that the extension of these two National Parks will be a fantastic opportunity to protect these vital, beautiful landscapes for generations to come. But if there is no affordable housing for young people there will be no future generations to maintain it.

These “national landscapes” were not created by NPAs. Nor do NPAs have the staff to maintain them. The only way to protect them is to protect and support those who do so – the landowners, the farmers and those who run small businesses. And the latter are facing increased competition from NPAs who are seeking to cover the shortfall in their grants by running their own businesses – businesses which will be subsidised by those Government grants.

What a sad future our beautiful countryside faces thanks to a Government which obviously has very little understanding of the needs of rural communities.


Cllr John Blackie’s statement to the YDNPA:

I do hope there will be some restraint on the air of triumphalism following the announcement that the YDNP is to be extended into Cumbria and Lancashire, adding an extra 24% by land mass to its existing area.

The Chairman (Peter Charlesworth) and Chief Executive (David Butterworth) of the YDNPA will do well to remember that the Authority supported the extension with two caveats, that it should be accompanied by additional funding to reflect the increase in area and that the current structure of the Local Authority membership of the Authority should remain whilst accepting that the extension will bring with it a demand for additional local authority membership to reflect the newly designated areas.

On both these caveats the YDNPA has come away empty handed.

They also need to recognise the strength of the opposition to the extension was a powerful and united partnership between three County Councils, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire and two District Councils, Richmondshire and Eden. It is important to note that most of these Local Authorities were due to gain a new, yet key influence, on the extended National Park through their membership of a reconstituted YDNPA, so their opposition is all the more surprising, and noteworthy of respect.

This partnership was cemented at a local level by a large number of the Dales communities in opposition, as represented by their Parish Councils. For example all of the Parish Councils in the Upper Dales were steadfast in their opposition to the extension, and the Chairman in noting the delight of local communities in the extension area in his Press Release should not overlook the dismay the news will set off amongst many local communities within the existing YDNP.

They are faced with seeing the resources they are entitled to receive from the YDNPA, to assist their self-reliant efforts and enterprise in maintaining the iconic landscapes the Dales are internationally famous for, are being substantially reduced, as they are stretched over a much larger area, whilst they are losing their local members from the Authority who speak up for their best interests day-in day-out at the Authority meetings and particularly on the YDNPA Planning Committee.

Further grant cuts

There is a certain irony in the Secretary of State’s (the Conservative MP, Elizabeth Truss) outright dismissal of the notion of there being any new Government resources to finance the extension today, but instead she promises jam tomorrow. This promise looks to be hollow in nature and substance given the Conservative-led Coalition of 2010 – 2015 has instigated the reduction of the resources it gives to National Parks by 40%, with a promise of a further 40% cut in store for it in the Comprehensive Spending Review in November !!

Adding to this is her suggestion that the YDNPA is good at levering in resources from charitable and grant-making organisations, so we now have a Government-led strategy of a YDNPA dependent on the Lottery. A depressing prospect for the local communities in the existing YDNP as the resources available to them shrink by 24%. I smile whilst asking – just how did your Lottery ticket fare in the draw last week ??

No wonder the Secretary of State’s visit on a traditionally quiet media day – a Friday – to the Upper Dales to make the announcement of her decision was such a hole in the wall affair, with her creeping into Hawes and creeping out again without I understand informing the BBC and ITV of her intentions until literally minutes before she arrived in the town, and without sending the letter announcing her decision to the select band of newspaper journalists invited to interview her.

It is a pity she was not prepared to talk to the local community in Hawes (and certainly with the Chairman of Hawes & High Abbotside Parish Council) where she might have been given a street level opinion on her decision to endorse what was plainly a Public Inquiry that was nothing more than a whitewash, but heavily disguised as a now obviously bogus opportunity to put the case against what it was always going to conclude.

The cynical choice of venue to make the announcement, the hugely and justifiably successful Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, was no doubt designed to soften the edge of the blow her decision was likely to have. The Wensleydale Creamery was saved some 22 years ago by the self-reliance and determination of the very local community she made her announcement in, by a Save the Wensleydale Creamery community campaign group founded in Hawes & High Abbotside, and joined by other Upper Dales communities and business leaders.

Being in the YDNP had little or nothing to do with the survival of Hawes Creamery, it was the desperate need of the local communities to have employment on their doorstep that time and again challenged the wish of Dairy Crest (then a Conservative Government owned arms length company) to sell off the Creamery site for housing or some other lucrative non-employment use, and made it in the end cave in to the local pressure. The rest is history.

impact on local representation

If the way the Public Inquiry was conducted is anything to go by, it gives little confidence that the promised so-called consultation on the structure of the local authority membership of the new YDNPA will be anything other than another done deal, fait accompli. We can soon expect proposals where District and County Councillors with pure National Park electorates are replaced with those on the very periphery of the extended area.

For example a Lancaster City Councillor with 200 electors or a Lancashire County Councillor with 475 electors in the extended YDNP will most likely take the place on the YDNPA (and possibly on its Planning Committee) of say a Richmondshire or Craven District Councillor with 1000 electors or a North Yorkshire County Councillor with 4750 electors. Of course if the number of members of the YDNPA remains the same then North Yorkshire District and County Councillors will be replaced by an increased number of District and County Councillors from Cumbria.

Will these new Councillors who predominantly represent up-market communities whose main interest in joining the YDNPA was to prevent wind farms in their area, and the loss in value of their houses they might lead on to, have the same priorities as those they replace, representing hard working, what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) Dales communities, where their very future is threatened by the exodus of young families caused by the loss of affordable housing to buy or rent ??

Will they have any clue – or indeed interest – in the planning issues that can impact detrimentally on the day to day way of life of these hard working dyed in the wool Dales communities. Will they even care about the future of these communities when there is such a mismatch in their priorities ??

impact on planning

Planning, already a National Disaster under the Conservative Government with long established processes protocol and protections being literally slung out of the window on a daily basis (so much so that a recent Friday afternoon Ministerial dictat on Affordable Housing was declared illegal by a Judicial Review) will be a Local Dogs Breakfast as no fewer than six local plans will have to be amended because of the decision made by Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss MP.

This will incur significant extra hidden costs that the Minister does not understandably own up to in this era of extreme public sector austerity. With cutbacks, for example, down to the level of Parish Councils in the YDNP having to pay for grit bins by an Ambulance Station, near a Doctors surgery, on dangerous hills, and outside schools, it is an unnecessary and extravagant public purse expense that political common sense should have concluded must be completely avoided at this difficult time.

This reason alone was sufficient to kick the extension plans into the North Sea. I pity barn owners in the newly designated areas who will find their current right to develop them via the streamlined system of prior notification into dwellings for local families or centres of rural enterprise will fall foul of the YDNPA planning regime which bars their conversion into houses or workplaces without full planning permission and subject to every planning rule in the book.

The losers in the extension areas through the loss of their planning rights are –

– the barn owners, very often local farmers struggling to make a living out of upland livestock farming (have you seen the recent price of a fat lamb, Ms Truss ??) whose hard work in all weathers delivers as a by-product the maintenance of the landscape thought worthy enough of National park designation – in short they are the foot soldiers of conservation.

– the local families denied an affordable opportunity of living amidst the communities that were born and / or brought up in.

– the local economy denied the opportunity for additional prosperity and a higher level of local employment from the new enterprises that would have found a home in a workshop converted from a barn, possibly using Superfast Broadband in doing so.

No wonder the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association were implacably against the extension proposals.

Protecting a successful brand

At least the Campaign to oppose the extension can rightly claim an outstanding success amidst all the doom and gloom embedded in the Minister’s decision. It was the Campaign that brought the likelihood of a change of name of the Yorkshire Dales National Park into the public domain, a change that would have removed at a stroke the unique worldwide branding and marketing tool that connects the iconic landscapes that are the very essence of the Yorkshire Dales – what they are internationally famous for – in the mind of the potential visitor or tourist.

The local economies in the existing YDNP would have been damaged probably beyond repair by such a name change given their increasing dependence on tourism. Despite this the name change was not in the terms of reference of the Inquiry, whilst many could understand the feelings of the local communities in the newly extended areas in Cumbria and Lancashire who would wish to have a name that reflected their geographical location, heritage and identity, and their desire for individuality that would see in the name change their wish come true to stand apart from the ethos and culture conjured up in the word Yorkshire.

The Campaign leaders were pooh-poohed on the potential for name change by the supporters of the extension, but it was their insistence in time and again bringing the possibility into the perception of the public as an implication of enlarging the YDNP into two counties other than Yorkshire that has led to the Minister unequivocally agreeing with what we were saying, and ruling out any possibility of name change in the future. Thank the Lord for Small Mercies.

An expensive trophy project

The extension of the YDNP was always a trophy project and remains so. It is an unnecessary, expensive and extravagant distraction from delivering the bread and butter business that keeps the deeply rural areas in the existing National Park Dales communities going on a day to day basis, and it threatens their future in so many ways.

With deep austerity in the public sector a fact of life already and directly ahead on the agenda again it is completely and utterly the wrong time for the extension to be introduced.

Indeed it is blow in the face of the Dales communities that have so magnificently and proudly, for 60 years or more, and with such wonderful results, acquitted their role of being the host to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is more than distressing that the shabby treatment and disregard for their future handed out in a whitewash of an Inquiry, endorsed by the Minister’s decision, should be their scant reward for all they have done to further the cause of National Parks, and their skilled handiwork and their very hard work in maintaining the wonderful landscapes that have provided such huge enjoyment for the visitors to their communities.

A Black Day for the future of the local communities in the Dales.

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