Leaders in the Yorkshire Dales have warned there now needs to be a genuine collective will if they are to execute the most co-ordinated attempt yet to remedy the increasingly damaging exodus of young people from communities in the national park.
Dominant market forces have been blamed for frustrating authorities’ efforts to reverse a perfect storm of social and economic pressures that have forced the next generation to leave the park.
The trend threatens the sustainability of a centuries-old way of life and a new five-year management plan, said to be the most important in the park’s then 64-year history, was drawn up last year to address the problems.
Just months later however and two Dales primary schools are in trouble - Arkengarthdale will shut this summer and Clapham has been earmarked to follow.
As documented by The Yorkshire Post in our Dales in Crisis series a year ago, declining local services, from schools to bank branches; a reliance on community-run transport; a dearth of well-paid jobs and a severe shortage of affordable homes is driving working-age families out of small Dales communities.
Twelve months on and the park remains largely gripped by a bleak housing stalemate. Planning permissions for a total of 424 new homes across various sites have yet to be acted upon.
Mark Corner, chairman of the Friends of the Dales, said: “Whilst there have been some modest positive developments in terms of affordable housing in the Dales, fundamentally nothing has changed and the outlook for the sustainability of local communities is as bleak as it was 12 months ago.
“The recent news that the primary school in Clapham may be forced to close due to lack of pupils is indicative of the challenge of young families being able to afford to stay or to come to live in the area.”
Independent Richmondshire councillor, county councillor and park authority member John Blackie added: “Whilst there’s been a lot of big talking by the authorities, at this point in time, progress has not been particularly good and it needs to be a lot faster in the future because we are in the last chance saloon.”
A new action plan, backed by a £80,000 commitment from local authorities, is designed to step up efforts to break the deadlock and address a wide range of other problems in an attempt to lure families back to the park.
David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, insisted that progress is being made.
“It does all feel as if we are trying to counter what are huge market forces that are very dominant and are determining the demographics of the area, but those bodies that can have some influence on what kind of community and society we have here in the next 20, 30 years, have moved quite a way forward,” he said.
“We have certainly come together to try to make a difference.”
The park authority has secured financial backing from Craven, Richmondshire and South Lakeland district councils, as well as North Yorkshire County Council, to deliver an action plan aimed at addressing problems around housing, jobs, communications connectivity, local services and promoting the park as a place to live.
Coun Richard Foster, leader of Craven District Council, said: “We don’t know all the solutions but there is now a movement and a real will to do something about this. There is a momentum now. Everyone is working towards the same goals.”