Plan to turn isolated Victorian school in Yorkshire Dales into tourist accommodation

The final chapter of a saga over an isolated Victorian school building which was made an assett of community value appears to be drawing near as a proposal to convert it into tourist accommodation has won the backing of planners.

Martin and Sue Stephenson’s ambition to convert the former Arkengarthdale Primary School into a base for their Inside Out Yorkshire guided walks and activity weekends venture will be considered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on Tuesday (Oct 19).

The school, near Langthwaite, which had served the Upper Dales area for 360 years, closed in 2019 after pupil numbers dwindled.

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When attempts to use the site to bolster the scant affordable housing stock in the area failed due to funding issues, the Arkengarthdale School Building Community Group, supported by Arkengarthdale Parish Council, had the site registered as an Asset of Community Value.The move triggered a six-month moratorium that restricted the building to community uses, but the community group was unable to raise the funds needed to buy the building by the deadline, so the Church of England school sold the school to the couple for £185,000.

Arkengarthdale Primary School

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In planning papers lodged with the authority, the couple state their business would work alongside other activity providers, to offer a wide range of activities, including yoga, kayaking and mountain biking.

The documents state: “Business will be generated for local accommodation providers and pubs and there will be employment opportunities for local service providers, including cleaners, activity instructors and guides.

“The business model requires guest accommodation and studio/classroom space for activities which include small group yoga and navigation classes.”

Park authority officers said for planning purposes, the former school would remain classed as a community facility until a permission was implemented for another authorised use.

They have advised alternative developments should not be permitted unless it can be demonstrated the land or building could not fulfil, or is not needed for, an alternative community use.

Officers said while objections, including one from The Upper Dales Community Land Trust, had been made over the loss of registered Asset of Community Value, the moratorium period had passed without it being shown that there was sufficient need for it to be retained as a community building.

The officers’ report states the creation of a local needs dwelling for a family living and working in the dale the business would help visitors enjoy the special qualities of the national park.

Recommending the plan be granted consent, the report states: “It would bring in couples, families and small groups who would enjoy activities in the local countryside and onsite. This would generate local employment and support businesses in the area that provide accommodation and the means to undertake outdoor activities.

“The proposal would see the redundant buildings given a residential and business use.”