Calls for strong united voice to tackle the most pressing challenges facing North Yorkshire's countryside communities

Rural communities across the sprawling countryside of North Yorkshire will need to unite to ensure that a wealth of ingrained issues can be tackled effectively, the chairman of a landmark commission has warned.

A view of Swaledale on the outskirts of Reeth. The dale is home to some of the remotest communities in the country, presenting challenges to provide a collective voice to drive forward the recommendations of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission. (Photo: Gary Longbottom)
A view of Swaledale on the outskirts of Reeth. The dale is home to some of the remotest communities in the country, presenting challenges to provide a collective voice to drive forward the recommendations of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission. (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

The diverse nature and geographical spread of England’s largest county has historically presented very real challenges in ensuring a collective voice is heard to political leaders in Westminster.

However, the chairman of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission, John Dobson, who is also the Dean of Ripon, has maintained that a united front is vital to drive forward a host of potential solutions to long-running problems affecting the countryside.

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The commission has published its final report which has highlighted ways of tackling wide-ranging issues including a lack of affordable housing, school closures due to falling pupil numbers and the need to boost internet and mobile phone coverage to tackle a digital divide between urban and rural areas.

A central theme running throughout the commission’s recommendations is the need for a devolution deal for North Yorkshire to ensure decision-making powers are shifted from the Government to local political leaders.

The Dean said: “The beauty of North Yorkshire is what makes it so wonderful to live and visit, but this beauty can also hold it back too.

“Communities are at the heart of North Yorkshire, but there are views as to how things should be done that aren’t always in agreement across the whole county.

“We need to ensure that there is a collective voice for all of the county if we are to achieve what the commission has always been about - bringing real change for the better not just for North Yorkshire, but for rural communities across the country too.”

The independent commission, which is the first of its kind to be established, has called on North Yorkshire County Council to establish an advisory task force to include civil servants, rural business, banking and industry, academic and scientific expertise and communities to take forward its recommendations.

Among the most radical proposals are a levy on the owners of second homes, and an overhaul of the Government’s funding formula for both education and housing.

A mutual bank has also been suggested to drive forward investment in North Yorkshire, while the county’s economy needs to be focused far more on the green energy sector, according to the report.

The commission has also said that the UK’s exit from the European Union has also pinpointed a need for new funding streams to be established for the farming sector and also public transport services.

The report has stressed that decision-making powers for key issues such as education, transport infrastructure and economic investment have to be shifted away from the capital and to the county’s local authorities.

The Government is currently considering plans for local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire to pave the way for a devolution deal to mirror the arrangements in place in West and South Yorkshire.

Two rival bids have been submitted to Westminster for the biggest overhaul of North Yorkshire’s local government structure in a generation to pave the way for a devolution deal for the county.

North Yorkshire County Council is behind plans for a single unitary authority, while the county’s seven district councils are proposing two east/west authorities either side of the A1.

A bid document which has been prepared by the county council sets out a series of requests to the Government totalling £2.4bn which would be spent over a 30-year period on issues including infrastructure, rural transport, skills and education.

Ministers are expected to make an announcement on the way forward during the summer, although the Government has stressed that it has already embarked on a wide-ranging programme of investment to help level up the nation’s economy.

The Rural Commission, which was established in November 2019, met 20 times taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.

The vast area of North Yorkshire means the county is home to a hugely varied spread of communities.

From the seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby to the county town of Northallerton and the deeply rural settlements of Swaledale, the county is three times larger than Luxembourg and bigger than 32 countries around the world.

The population of North Yorkshire is estimated at 618,000 residents, with a third of people living in market towns and villages.

A total of 85 per cent of North Yorkshire’s 3,200 square miles is classed as super-sparse, with less than one person per hectare living in super-sparse areas.