'Radical rethink' needed to help save the future of Yorkshire Dales National Park

A former council leader is pressing a national park authority to add aiding communities to its main purposes and give parish councils a greater voice in key decisions, saying radical change is needed to save the area’s future.

North Yorkshire and Richmondshire councillor for the Upper Dales Yvonne Peacock’s statement to a meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority today (Sep 29) will come as it considers its response to a government White Paper calling for a thorough shake-up of the planning system.

Leading elements of the authority’s response to the White Paper are likely to include whether the changes would take decision-making powers away from local communities and elected officials.

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The White Paper suggests development proposals would be made to local authorities, but be judged against a national framework.

A planning shake up could change the future of the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The document also states authorities would be required “to profoundly re-invent the ambition, depth and breadth of ways in which they engage with communities”, with the local plan, rather than the planning application, being the main opportunity for residents to influence future development.

Coun Peacock will tell members the “duty to seek to foster the economic and social wellbeing of local communities” should be made of equal importance to the principle statutory purposes of the national park, following decades of housing policy failure.

She will also urge the authority to press the government to give “elected parish councils equal weight in making decisions on local plans and planning applications”, to ensure residents’ views are properly considered, particularly following the authority reducing the number of its elected representatives.

The moves would represent the biggest sea change for the body since the national park was established in 1954 with the statutory purposes to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the area’s special qualities.

Conservative councillor Peacock, who led the Richmondshire authority until last year, said: “For many years the park authority has failed to meet the target of local need for affordable housing. It is time to look at another way. It took 15 years of battling to get some affordable housing in Bainbridge for example.

“With house prices rising, more second homes and holiday cottages and wages lower than average unless something changes, the Dales will have lost the people who are delivering services for tourists and residents. In other words no one left to keep the Dales economy going.”

She said to stem the exodus of young people from the national park there needed to be about five affordable homes built in every village in the Upper Dales.

Coun Peacock said it was particularly frustrating that when parish councils did feel strongly enough about a development to submit views they were often taken with a pinch of salt by planning authorities.

She added: “It is time for a radical rethink and to allow the locally elected parish councils that best know their communities to have more input into the very policies which effect their communities.”

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James Mitchinson