People power has brought two affordable homes to the Upper Dales but urgent help is needed for communities to survive

People power has brought two affordable homes to the Upper Dales but more help is needed

The lack of affordable homes for those living, working or wishing to return to their birthplace in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a fiendishly difficult problem to solve. New development is severely constrained by restrictions to protect the glorious landscape and the price of existing property, already unaffordable for many on an average wage, has rocketed, largely due to the pandemic.

Along with the regular stream of “off cummed ‘uns” including downsizers, retirees and second homeowners, those now able to work from home and investors looking for a safe haven for their cash have made a beeline for the Dales.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in Richmondshire, which takes in Swaledale, Arkengarthdale, Wensleydale and Coverdale, house prices are now 8.5 times the average salary, up from 4.2 times in 1997.

Arkengarthdale is one of the Upper Dales that is suffering due ti the lack of affordable homes for local people

The Covid effect was clear when paid prices shot up by 24.3 per cent in 2020 while the average house price rise in Yorkshire was 10.4 per cent over the same period. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show a 14.2 per cent increase in values over the year to May 2022 and, according to Rightmove, properties in the Yorkshire Dales now have an average price of £312,506.

Properties to rent as homes are rare as hen’s teeth due to the fact that most are holiday lets, which generate more income.

All of the above make a small but important victory by concerned Upper Dales residents and local council members all the more impressive. Five years ago they formed the Upper Dales Community Land Trust and through people power, patience and persistence, they are celebrating after buying the former Bainbridge Methodist Chapel to renovate and convert into two affordable and sustainable apartments for affordable rent for local people living and working in the Upper Dales.

Richmondshire District Council supported the group with grants of £125,000 and £217,000 to pay for the purchase and renovation of the chapel. The Methodist Council, keen to back the venture, played its part by agreeing to wait for payment until approvals and funding were in place.

Now the UDCLT hopes to have the conversion done and ready for occupation by early 2023 and Karbon Homes, a housing association, is waiting in the wings to take the properties on and find deserving tenants. The housing association is a must-have as it can access £120,000 of Homes England funding towards the development.

“It took a lot longer to get to this point than we ever expected but with an ageing and declining population here, it has never been more important to retain and attract young people to the Upper Dales. "We need people of working age if the area is to have a sustainable future. Businesses here rely on that,” says Stephen Stubbs, Chair of the UDCLT, who co-founded the group with the late John Blackie, a councillor and passionate campaigner.

“Whilst the chapel will only provide two affordable homes for local people, it is a start and we have other possibilities in the pipeline. We have a pre-planning application for a site for housing in Reeth and potential for four homes in Arkengarthdale ” says Mr Stubbs, 63, who has lived in Arkengarthdale all his life and has seen the loss of two village shops, a village institute, the chapel and the school.

While the district council and Upper Dales community want more affordable housing to rent and buy, getting it remains a difficult task. Converting buildings is a possibility going forward if they are available, suitable, the business case stacks up and funds can be found but development land is in short supply.

“We have quite a few things stacked against us including National Park planning restrictions and the cost of converting buildings into modern homes, which is more expensive than new builds,” says Mr Stubbs.

He points out that second homes and holiday lets bring money into the local economy but if there are too many, communities die. “There’s not an easy answer to the problem going forward. The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth but it is a victim of its own success as tourism has increased. Going forward we want to make people aware of the situation and work together with them, which is more beneficial than shouting at them.”

Helen Percival who owns the Mulberry Tree shop in Hawes says her grown up children cannot afford to buy in the area and adds that rentals are virtually impossible to find. “The National Park should do more to allow affordable homes to be built,” she says.

Aislinn Smith and her partner Edward Taylor, both 26, run Eye4Cleaning Solutions, a domestic and commercial cleaning company. They rent a small home in Reeth but Aislinn, who grew up in Arkengarthdale, says: “We want to buy a home in the Dales, where our business is based, but house prices are ridiculous.

“Family homes are about £500,000, which means a £50,000 mortgage deposit. Buying feels unrealistic but we are trying to be hopeful and determined but it could be years before we can buy if ever. The other issue is that there are a limited number of homes in the Dales and we would be competing with people who want second homes and holiday lets.”

She adds: “I grew up in Arkengarthdale and went to school there. I can remember when there would be 20 kids playing on the village green. Now you don’t see any.”

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust welcomes interested parties to contribute their time or give a donation. Email [email protected] or visit www.udclt.co.uk. Visit www.communitylandtrust.org.uk for more information on how they operate.