There has been a marked decline in the number of young people living across parts of the Yorkshire Dales, authorities have long recognised, with 44 per cent fewer residents aged 16 to 34 when compared to the national average.
Meetings have been held over recent months by a coalition of authorities to agree a strategy for the future, amid warnings over school closures and a potential loss of services.
Now, as Richmondshire District Council has become the first to formally set aside funding of £20,000 towards a strategic plan of action, leaders have claimed that the move is absolutely “critical” to the countryside’s vitality.
“For far too long, we’ve been doing a lot of things piecemeal,” said Coun Yvonne Peacock, the leader of Richmondshire District Council. “What is important is that we are actually getting together and putting together a plan.
“We want to attract young people to live and work in the national park. We are losing young people, and school numbers are down. If this carries on, it will become very serious.
“We have a lot of work to do. But we are determined – and that is important. We are not letting this go.”
The Yorkshire Dales National Park, warning it faced the biggest crisis in its history, set out a vision last year for further growth amid a “perfect storm” of social and economic pressures.
Meeting with council leaders in Richmondshire, Craven, Eden and the South Lakes, it outlined a range of practical steps which could be taken to halt, and then reverse rural community decline, seeking funding from each authority to create a working plan.
Each partner authority will lead on its own specific actions, injecting £20,000 into a joint £100,000 fund to deliver them. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is expected to be next to agree its funding investment, with a decision set to be taken in March.
In Richmondshire, the key priorities will be community-led and self build housing, jobs creation and support, improving digital communications and strengthening services in main settlements.
There will also be a focus on ways to better market the area sharing its strengths to attract new people. Coun Peacock, citing recent survey results which name Richmondshire as among the best places to live in England, said there are a wealth of assets to celebrate, from green fields to village schools and active lifestyles.
Yet it may be, she added that the area is still perceived as a ‘holiday destination’ rather than as a vibrant community to live within, and a clear marketing strategy could change that.
“This action plan is looking for evidence so we actually know why the decline is happening,” she said.
“It’s clear we need to build houses that are affordable,” she said. “We need jobs. We need to work towards better technology – you don’t have to live in a city to run a business.
“We must stop the decline, and attract new people. We need to encourage those that have left to come back.”