Dales councillor quits role over '˜misguided' council tax hike plan

A veteran Yorkshire Dales politician has resigned from a senior chairmanship role in opposition to plans to charge second home owners five times' the rate of council tax - claiming he 'cannot stand idly by' as the 'unwelcome and unproductive exercise in social engineering' destroys the local economy.

Coun John Blackie pictured in Gunnerside in Upper Swaledale.

Coun John Blackie has tendered his resignation as chairman of Richmondshire District Council’s Upper Dales Area Partnership (UDAP) over the council tax hike plan, as he claims this and other district council policies, such as a cut back in cleaning public toilets, are having a “hugely detrimental impact” on communities in the Upper Dales.

The Independent politician, who has sat on Richmondshire District Council (RDC) since 1995, has been the chairman of the partnership since it began in May 2011, but said he now feels “distinctly uncomfortable” in acting in any official position, other than as an elected member.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) narrowly voted to ask the Government to trial huge council tax hikes for second homes within the Park in December.

The plan, which would equate to an annual £8,500 tax bill for a Band D property, is part of radical new approach to attract more young families, and while initial talks with district councils have been supportive - RDC will only formerly debate the proposals at its council meeting next month.

In his resignation letter, Coun Blackie wrote: “I am passionate supporter of young families in the Upper Dales with a 20+ year track record I am very proud of in promoting their best interests – so I cannot stand idly by and watch such a misguided and ill-researched, back of an envelope policy emerge without taking personal action to try to prevent the adverse and unintended consequences it will undoubtedly cause.”

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Coun Blackie said the local economy is heavily dependant on tourism and the money second home owners bring to the district.

“Many of the young people we are hoping to keep and retain in the Dales are self-employed traders, electricians and joiners, who rely on second home owners for work,” he said. “Their enterprises are under threat if they suddenly sell up. Second home owners are not the pariahs they are made out to be.”

Coun Blackie said tourism in the Upper Dales was also being hit by a District Council decision to cutback on the cleaning of seven public toilets in the Dales, some of which are used by 150,000 visitors annually.

Richmondshire leader Coun Yvonne Peacock said Coun Blackie’s resignation was “disappointing”. She said: “As a former leader of the council Coun Blackie knows that I have to make tough decisions to balance the books – and these decisions may sometimes be unpopular.

“I recognise that there will be consequences to the council tax proposal but to suggest that house prices will fall sharply and young people will still be forced to leave the Dales is scaremongering at the very least.

“My administration has been successful in riding the austerity storm and is doing all it can to make life better for the people living in Richmondshire – has he forgotten about moves like the Tour de Yorkshire coming to Richmondshire, the return of CCTV to Richmond town centre, and a massive refurbishment scheme for the districts toilets?”

Carl Lis, chairman of the YDNPA, has previously acknowledged the value of second home owners, but said permanent residents “would very likely contribute much more”.