Intense challenges posed by the affordable homes crisis, a reliance on subsidised, community-led public transport and an economy that relies too heavily on the poorly paid sectors of tourism and upland farming are at risk of worsening for decades to come.
A five-year vision to shape the future of the Dales will be published this month and senior figures warn that the document presents the biggest challenges since the National Park was formed in 1964.
“It is by some distance the most important plan for the next five years,” said the chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, David Butterworth.
A key aim is to create living and working conditions to attract young families and reduce a widening gap between the proportion of young and older residents. To do so, prohibitive house prices and austerity-hit local services need to be overcome.
Mr Butterworth said offering a good quality of life was crucial to attracting families.
“The austerity measures have kicked in, we’ve had some closures of banks and post offices but it is also about where people choose to live and shop,” he said. “Those of us who live and work in the area have to accept some responsibility for the decline of services because we use Tesco rather than the local shop, we use online banking rather than the branch.
“If we all want to see our communities prosper, we may have to be a little more thoughtful about how we live our lives.
“If it’s left wholly and solely to market forces to sort out, what we are seeing will continue for the next 50 years.”
The threats to Dales communities are set out in a series of papers to guide the park’s new plan. More than a quarter of residents are of pension age, fuel poverty is rife and more than a fifth of farms could go bust if subsidies are cut.
Young people from non-farming families have to leave to find work, according to Richmondshire Reeth and Arkengarthdale councillor Ian Scott, who said: “If they get a job, say in Darlington or Teesside, they don’t want to be travelling back every day – that’s apart from the fact the houses are cheaper.”
Mark Corner, the chairman of the Friends of the Dales charity, added: “Communities are struggling. There is almost an existential crisis as the Dales depopulates. We are becoming an old-aged person’s village overall.”
The park has to be dragged into the 21st century, said the leader of Craven District Council, Coun Richard Foster. “If rural communities die, and this is a possibility if we don’t get young people to come here, we will lose the spirit of the Yorkshire Dales which is part of the reason people come here to see them. The plan is to try and move forward in a way that brings the National Park screaming into the 21st century.”