Dales fears over loss of offices

School rolls in parts of the Upper Dales have fallen dramatically in a generation.
School rolls in parts of the Upper Dales have fallen dramatically in a generation.
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More than a third of all office premises in the Yorkshire Dales National Park are being lost and converted to homes under relaxed planning rules which national park bosses fear threatens the area’s economy.

Eleven out of 29 offices in the Dales have been fast-tracked for residential conversions using permitted development rights which bypass the need for planning permission.

The policy was introduced in May 2013 to last for three years but the Department for Communities and Local Government has consulted on extending the rules beyond 2016, “to allow developers to continue making use of underused offices to create much needed new homes”.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) objects to an extension.

Richard Graham, the YDNPA’s head of development management, said: “Since the ‘office to residential’ permitted development right was introduced 11 of the National Park’s stock of 29 office premises have gained approval for conversion to a dwelling. This has included rural office schemes that benefited from public grant funding which cannot be ‘clawed back’ and office premises that had planning permission for conversion to housing for people with a ‘local housing need’ which are now lost to open market housing.

“However the more serious issue with the proposal is the impact that unmanaged loss of further office floorspace will effect on the diversity and resilience of the local economy, job opportunities and services that are available to residents.

“The local economy of the National Park is heavily reliant on tourism and agriculture, office based businesses provide some diversity to the local economy as well as job opportunities and services for residents.”

National Parks are desirable places for retirement and holiday homes, so it is likely that further take up of the relaxed rules will be significant, the Authority said in its response to the Government’s consultation.

“The proposal may create new housing but the type of housing will not do anything to help address the issues of local affordability or the sustainability of rural communities,” the YDNPA said.

But the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said fewer offices did not necessarily mean fewer businesses.

Dorothy Fairburn, the CLA’s regional director, said: “We share the national park’s concerns that the Dales must remain a vibrant economic area, however we mustn’t assume there is a correlation between available office space and economic activity. Empty offices are not in anyone’s interest as they are a wasted resource and attract costly business rates for the owner. It is also important to remember there has been a fundamental shift in the way businesses operate, with more and more people taking advantage of new technology to work from home or indeed start up new business ventures from home without office overheads.”

Yet, Mr Graham added: “Businesses may be put off moving to remote rural areas like the Dales if they can’t find office premises.”