Ministers have been called upon to overturn a controversial decision which will soon prevent some farm buildings from being converted into shops, offices and other commercial uses without planning permission in the Yorkshire Dales.
Fearing that the move by national park chiefs will damage the future prosperity of the area, two local authorities have written a joint letter to MPs Eric Pickles and Owen Patterson. Richmondshire District Council and North Yorkshire County Council want Mr Pickles, as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Owen Patterson, as Environment Secretary, to cancel an Article 4 Order made by the Dales National Park Authority in March.
The order removes, from January, permitted development rights that allow barns and other agricultural buildings to be converted for commercial uses such as shops, restaurants, offices, hotels and sports halls without the need for planning permission.
Park chiefs say the move protects local interests but the councils in question feel that by revoking the rules, they are acting contrary to the desires of the Government to stimulate economic growth in rural areas.
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said: “The relaxation of planning controls would greatly assist in boosting farm incomes, tourism, business for the host of small construction trades that are a feature of the National Park and the general prosperity of the local communities and local economies. The Dales National Park Authority is wrong to try to control these key opportunities for enterprise via a stifling Article 4 Order, and I hope the Ministers will agree with us and reject their request.”
Councillor Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for highways and planning services, said he recognised the need to protect the Dales’ unique heritage, but in sparsely populated areas, communities need better support to thrive. “We have to support our hard-pressed agricultural communities to develop their businesses into the future,” Coun Dadd said.
Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association, said it was “simply not fair” that farmers and landowners within the national park will not benefit from relaxed planning measures and that the move will “undermine the economic recovery that we are starting to see in the region”.
But Peter Charlesworth, chairman of the Dales National Park Authority, said he was surprised by the resistance.
“We think the issue is a simple one – it is who makes local planning decisions? Are they best made in Westminster or Whitehall or are they best made by local bodies? There are strong economic and community reasons – as well as environmental ones – for retaining some local control over barn conversions in the Yorkshire Dales.
“Our planning policies already support barn conversions for employment uses and will continue to do so – but we do think there should still be an opportunity for local residents to have their say on any new development, and to prevent new intensive uses of barns in the middle of open countryside where there is no existing road access or services. An Article 4 Direction is the only way to do that.”