Statement by the Association of Rural Communities concerning local democracy in the new North Yorkshire Council and the under-funding of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority:
A major crime has been committed against local democracy and the special landscape of the Yorkshire Dales – and the perpetrator is the government.
The government pushed for large unitary authorities to replace district councils in north England. One of these, North Yorkshire Council, states on its website states that it is ‘being built with local at its heart and aims to be the most local, large council in England.’
But actions speak louder than words as is very obvious for those living in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Not only do they no longer have their own district councillor (Richard Good) but they have lost their local representative on the planning committee of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).
Mr Good’s place on the YDNPA planning committee has now been allocated to Steve Shaw-Wright the North Yorkshire County councillor from Selby – almost 73 miles from Reeth.
Two other local district councillors have been replaced on the planning committee by those who do not live in the National Park.
Alastair Dinsdale, chairman of the Association of Rural Communities said: ‘I see this as the final nail in the coffin of democracy within the National Park. We, the community, own, live and manage the area as unpaid park keepers. We are now controlled by officers, appointed members and elected members from larger authorities around the National Park. Residents of the National Park should have the same level of local government representation as everyone else.
‘For a sustainable future we need to take back some control before the next generation turn their backs and leave, and then who will look after what we have created and managed so well?’
In addition to the problem of representation it looks as if Swaledale and Arkengarthdale will also suffer from the under-funding of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNPA).
The core grant from Defra to the YDNPA has not increased for eight years – and yet seven years ago, in August 2016, the size of that National Park was increased by almost a quarter (from 653 sq miles to 841 sq miles) . The YDNPA stated at that time: ‘It’s thrilling that these fantastic areas [such as the Great Asby Scar, the northern Howgill Fells, Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang ] have at last been recognised as worthy of national park status, based entirely on the quality of the landscape and rich recreational opportunities they offer.’
But what is the use of having the status without the money to do the job properly?
As the YDNPA Chief Executive David Butterworth told the Full Authority meeting on March 28, due to inflation the core grant from Defra was less in actual terms now than it was in 2010, and in real terms was worth half of what it was then. ‘We used to have a £1, now we have 50p,’ he said.
He explained that through income generation and using some of its reserves the Authority has balanced its budget and expects to meet most of its objectives which include producing a new Nature Recovery Plan for the National Park. But it still needed to cut back on some projects including wildlife conservation, trees and woodlands.
It is also re-evaluating its very successful Rights of Way maintenance programme. As the responsibility for these rests with the Highways Authorities the YDNPA will discuss funding with the new Unitary Authorities. There is also the possibility of having card-only car parking machines at its car parks which, it stated, would save about £50,000 a year by 2025.
And there is a proposal to remove the Authority’s presence from Hudson House in Reeth from 2024/25, which would save it £31,000 a year. Authority member Allen Kirkbride, the parish council representative for the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales, described Hudson House as ‘very much the face of the national park’ in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
Those two dales are an integral part of the Yorkshire Dales and would have been key factors in its designation as a National Park in 1954. The barns and walls in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale are so iconic that in 1989 much of those dales became the largest conservation area in the country.
Hudson House works in partnership with several local agencies as well as providing an office for the National Park’s Ranger and its Tourist Information Centre. Mike Evershed, the chair of Hudson House Ltd, told the meeting on March 28 that its mission was to further the economic, social, cultural and environmental interests of residents, businesses and visitors to Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. He spoke, therefore, about the effect of the YDNPA’s withdrawal on residents, businesses and visitors.
He said: ’In terms of businesses and visitors, I believe it would be very damaging if the visitor centre in Reeth were to close completely. I am well aware that in recent years it has been something of a Cinderella and not a high priority for staffing or stocking. But Swaledale is one of the most iconic dales and Reeth a historic centre both for business and recreation. I believe there is scope for us to work with you to reduce costs and improve sales or, if necessary, to find an alternative way to maintain a tourist information presence in Reeth. So I would urge the Authority to work positively with us to explore alternatives before taking any irreversible steps to close the centre completely.
‘The second point I would like to make is that your local area ranger is also based in Hudson House and that does not seem to be considered. The co-location of the area rangers in the communities they serve was one of the best decisions the Authority has made. People can and do drop into Hudson House to talk about issues before they become problems. This co-location has also been of great importance when there have been emergencies, such as after the devastating flash flooding in 2019. So there is considerable concern in the local community that you are planning to close the ranger’s office as well as the visitor centre.’
The way things are going it won’t be just Hudson House which is the Cinderella but all of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.