Dales ‘undermined’ as housing hopes dashed by planning head

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THE Government has been warned the fabric of the Yorkshire Dales is being undermined after sites earmarked for affordable housing are due to be struck off the first planning blueprint of its kind.

Detailed plans have been drawn up over the past five years to counter the deepening housing crisis in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

But it emerged yesterday that a Government-appointed planning inspector has set out changes to the proposed policies which are expected to see at least six of the 35 development sites scrapped.

The national park authority has itself requested two locations are ditched because in one instance the land at Hudswell has been sold, and there are access issues for another site in Malham.

The inspector has now raised concerns about the impact of proposed development on the character of Aysgarth, Low Row and Thornton Rust and the surrounding landscapes.

The Yorkshire Post has learnt the national park authority was notified that a further site at Muker has been rejected by the inspector, and more changes are expected.

Proposed changes to the housing development plan will see the number of homes reduced by at least 15 properties from an initial target of about 240.

The inspector has also called for national park chiefs to clarify planning rules if developers claim they are unable to meet affordable housing targets.

The authority’s member champion for planning, Coun John Blackie, said: “You cannot take normal town and country planning rules for the Dales, as the area has been built up around often very remote communities.

“These communities are the very fabric of the Dales, but we are now being told that they cannot have affordable housing built there.

“I am worried that a planning inspector is not taking heed of the views that have been expressed to him. Without the affordable housing in places like Swaledale, people will be forced to move away and the communities will die before our very eyes.”

The new policies will provide a far more pro-active approach to addressing the lack of affordable housing in what is one of the country’s property hotspots.

The need for new homes was identified as the most pressing issue to preserve local communities amid an intense demand for second homes.

While property markets have slumped across many parts of the country, the Yorkshire Dales has weathered the economic downturn and an average home now costs £287,180. But a quarter of all incomes for the national park’s 10,000 households average just £16,264, with the local economy centred on the relatively poorly paid farming and tourism sectors.

The new approach will be the first time that an over-arching planning blueprint has been created to pinpoint specific locations for development since the national park was created in 1954.

A shortlist of sites for housing was finalised after landowners were asked to come forward with potential locations.

The national park authority’s director of conservation and community, Gary Smith, confirmed the changes proposed by the inspector will go out for a six-week public consultation after they are discussed at a meeting on Tuesday.

A final report will then be prepared by the inspector before being considered by the authority on June 26.

Mr Smith said: “House-building is an emotive issue, but perhaps even more so in a national park. But the need for affordable homes is as great now as it has ever been, and the new policies sets out how we can address this need.”