A major new plan for the North York Moors National Park has a pivotal role in keeping its rural villages alive but the public must seize the chance to have their say on the blueprint which will guide development in their communities for 15 years, the park’s planning boss has urged.
As part of a new draft Local Plan for the park which will inform policy and planning decisions between 2020 and 2035, Moors chiefs have drawn up a provisional target for 551 new homes.
A dearth of affordable housing stock, combined with low wages and the loss of schools, shops, post offices, banks and bus services, has contributed to - and is partly to blame for - a 4.2 per cent population slump in the park between 2001 and 2016; a net loss of 1,108 people.
The new plan seeks to tackle that decline, in part by ensuring that a significant portion of new homes built in the coming years are for local families.
Park chiefs state in the draft document that small scale development will be encouraged in villages to meet local housing needs.
So-called ‘infill’ sites - plots between existing properties - in larger villages could be used to build two houses provided they would not become second homes or holiday homes, it states.
A series of community consultation events are underway to give residents the chance to have their say on the draft plan and the director of planning at the North York Moors National Park Authority, Chris France, said it was crucial for local people to scrutinise the proposals.
“If I could make a plea it would be ‘please get involved now’. It’s not the last opportunity, it’s basically the first because this is the draft plan, but if you miss these opportunities, there will be no point in moaning about our decisions in the future,” Mr France said.
“These policies are vital and will affect whether new houses are built in someone’s village, whether these villages are going to continue being viable places for people to want to live and work in. We don’t want villages becoming deserted because if they do, the landscape will suffer.
“It’s all about making people aware that the National Park isn’t a museum, it’s a living landscape. We want to keep our villages alive by creating the right growth.
“There will always be young people who leave the dale and seek a life in the nearest town but we want to give them the option to stay. They have to leave at the moment, there are no jobs for them.”
A number of consultation events have been held so far and the next are at Rosedale Abbey’s Reading Rooms on Tuesday and at Chop Gate Village Hall on Thursday, between 4pm and 4pm on both occasions.
Mr France said people living and working in the Esk Valley and Rosedale areas in particular had told of connectivity issues that hold them back.
“People in remote parts of the park don’t have broadband and it means a lot of people can’t use the internet for banking at a time when their local bank branches and post offices have closed.
“All we can do as the local planning authority is have policies that will allow and encourage mobile phone and broadband providers to address the issue.
“If we can provide low cost housing and get broadband, that’s the real nitty-gritty about keeping rural communities together.”
The National Park has competing priorities to satisfy in drawing up its blueprint for the future. As well as encouraging growth, it has a duty to protect the landscape.
Other policies in the draft document aim to bolster protection to the park’s wild landscapes, sense of tranquillity and dark skies, including new controls on artificial lighting and a block on most developments in areas of the National Park that are at least a kilometre away from the nearest postal address or main road.