Target outsiders to revive ailing Yorkshire Dales villages, suggests park chief

More people are leaving the Yorkshire Dales National Park than moving in for the first time in 40 years.  Picture: Tony Johnson

More people are leaving the Yorkshire Dales National Park than moving in for the first time in 40 years. Picture: Tony Johnson

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Life in the countryside may not be as attractive as it once was. Service cuts by austerity stricken councils, National Parks and others, combined with connectivity not-spots and rising house prices have tainted the rural idyll, regardless of the inspiring scenery and sense of freedom.

Statistics offer the proof. The most recent Census data show the population of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has fallen for the first time in 40 years.

Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, believes the Yorkshire Dales needs to be made a more attractive place to live in order to attract modern families - citing connectivity and decling services as reasons why people would be deterred.   Picture: Gerard Binks

Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, believes the Yorkshire Dales needs to be made a more attractive place to live in order to attract modern families - citing connectivity and decling services as reasons why people would be deterred. Picture: Gerard Binks

So concerning is the future viability of some deeply rural communities, that Peter Stockton, head of sustainable development at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, recently told The Yorkshire Post: “We need to get people back and it’s almost an issue of it doesn’t matter who.”

To balance out the current exodus Mr Stockton said his own view was that the time had come to reach out to people from all over the country who do still desire a move to the countryside - an opinion that has sparked a very mixed reaction.

“I wonder whether we should, if we’re interested in sustainability and working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and district councils, market places like the Dales as places to live, because the National Park Authority’s planning policy won’t change the factors affecting the national economy,” he said.

“It might be a case of doing what some communities have been doing for a little while and reaching beyond the Dales and even Yorkshire to households thinking of moving to the likes of the Cotswolds, to Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands and asking: have you thought about moving to the Dales?”

Picture: Tanya St. Pierre/Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

Picture: Tanya St. Pierre/Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

Paul Dixon, rural evidence manager at ACRE which represents England’s 38 rural community councils, thinks such strategies could work but added: “Encouraging people to relocate to an area can be positive, but it has to be balanced with the needs of the wider area and needs the services and housing to support a community.”

All villages need new blood, reasoned Leah Swain, chief officer of Rural Action Yorkshire: “It brings new skills, creativity and ideas. Young families coming in can help keep schools, shops and post offices open.”

Yet any suggestion that life in the Yorkshire Dales is what will appeal to modern, urban families is somewhat absurd, according to Amanda Owen.

The mother-of-nine, who is known as The Yorkshire Shepherdess for her tales of farming at remote Ravenseat, said: “It’s alright saying that it’s a wonderful place to live but there is this other thing called reality.

Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire, says new blood would help revive ailing villages, as long as newcomers try to "fit in".

Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire, says new blood would help revive ailing villages, as long as newcomers try to "fit in".

“People will come and look and see it’s pretty, a dream to live here, they’ll have room for a pony and kids playing outside and then all of a sudden they will think, but I need mobile phone signal and an internet connection. Where’s the nearest hospital? Two miles away. What about having to travel 30 miles to go to school?

“It’s alright saying come to the Dales but the reality is that in order to put roots down you need deep pockets because it’s expensive to live here. To go anywhere you have to fill your car with diesel, you can’t catch a bus.

“There’s also a constant doing away with of services which makes it very difficult to live here if you’re not working in farming. It’s a tragedy. There should be more people here but the more services are taken away the more unattractive it is to live here.

“If we really want people to come and live in the countryside, then we have to start thinking about how to make it more attractive for people.”

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