Dales struggle goes on between high home prices and low pay

THE eyes of the country were on the Yorkshire Dales when its national park authority revealed its new local occupancy restrictions in 2005.

Senior members proudly recall announcing the move – as one of the first planning authorities in the country to do so – to a media scrum of television microphones and cameras.

Yet seven years on, many feel the problem of providing affordable housing in the Dales has got worse, with house prices soaring far above stagnating wages at one of the highest rates in the country.

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Now as mortgage-lending has disappeared for homes placed under the local occupancy restrictions, David Butterworth, the chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has admitted it can only have a small-scale influence on the housing market due to a succession of failures from central Government.

“There has been a deliberate policy to try to address the problem of the lack of housing provision for these families that already live and work within the Yorkshire Dales,” he said.

“That is where the focus of the national park authority has been in the past, but we have always recognised that has been on a fairly small scale.

“And a few years ago suddenly we found a situation where the local people in the Dales were not able to get the mortgages they had before.

“In the last month or so I have noticed some early signs of improvement, but we are certainly not anywhere near where we were previously.

“Council housing used to be the first rung of the ladder for many people in the national park.

“That used to represent 15 per cent of housing in the national park, but following the mass sale of council homes it has not been replaced by housing associations.

“That first rung has virtually disappeared.

“I always thought the local occupancy regulations were something that was going to deal with the problem in a small way, rather than address it in a fundamental way. I don’t think you can take 15 per cent council housing stock, put that on the private market and not think there would be a problem caused by that.

“It is trying to deal in a local environment with forces outside the place that are much greater – the lack of credit and any coherent housing policy.

“There are going to have to be questions asked in this country about whether the market is going to deliver housing where it is required. At the moment what we appear to have is 20 years of failure from the markets.

“This is why we get to the position where we have very expensive houses but wages that don’t match that – and that is clearly happening in the national park.”

The average home in the Dales now costs £287,180, despite a quarter of all incomes for the national park’s 10,000 households averaging just £16,264, with the local economy centred on the relatively poorly paid farming and tourism sectors.

In Craven, the average wage is under £18,000 a year although the average house price is £220,000, while in Richmondshire, house prices are £245,000, 13 times the average annual wage of under £19,000, making it one of the least affordable areas in the country.

To help address the problem, Mr Butterworth has also called on residents within the Dales to be more realistic about future development in the national park.

“It is not just about national policy, it is people’s perceptions of where they live,” he said.

“If we want to conserve the way of life and the opportunity for people to live and work in the area, then there needs to be a good honest and open debate about this in the national park.”