ENVIRONMENT Secretary Owen Paterson has been warned that controversial plans to expand the Yorkshire Dales National Park could dilute the globally-recognised brand and erode its multi-million pound tourism industry.
A decision is due later this year from Mr Paterson on the proposals to extend the boundaries of the national park after a public inquiry’s hearing came to a close on Wednesday.
While the proposed expansion is seen as key to protecting landscapes and boosting tourism and recreation, grave concerns have been voiced that the move would undermine the world-renowned brand of the Dales.
Opponents fear the proposals to incorporate part of Lancashire and more of Cumbria could see the name of the Yorkshire Dales lost forever.
One of the most vocal critics of the planned extension is Richmondshire District Council’s leader, Coun John Blackie, who gave evidence on the final day of the public inquiry in Kendal.
His authority, along with the county councils representing Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire – as well as the district council for Eden – have all objected to the plans, claiming the expansion could have a negative impact on rural communities.
Coun Blackie, who is also a member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “My concern is that the name change is very much in the running.
“You can understand why communities living in Cumbria and especially Lancashire would not want to fall under the banner of the Yorkshire Dales. While part of Cumbria is already in the national park, the expansion would include an awful lot more.
“It is no longer simply about the Yorkshire Dales, and there is a very strong cultural identity for these other places. The peril will be from the pressure from local communities to change the name of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but this would spell doom and gloom for the tourism industry.
“I do believe that without such a strong brand to promote, people will simply not come to the Dales. It could spell disaster for so many businesses and local communities.”
The Planning Inspectorate is to consider evidence from the public inquiry over the summer, before a report is due to be handed to Mr Paterson in September for him to make a final decision on the plans.
He will also be given the responsibility of deciding whether a name change is necessary to take into account the new areas if the expansion is given the go-ahead.
The culmination of the public inquiry represents the latest landmark in a long-running saga that dates back four years after Natural England announced plans at the end of 2009 to include a series of beauty spots in Cumbria and Lancashire within the boundaries.
There has, however, been widespread opposition to increasing the size of the national park from its existing area of 680 square miles to 842 square miles.
As well as fears the national park could be re-branded to accommodate the North-West, there are worries that local influence will be undermined as members representing Yorkshire Dales communities could be replaced by councillors from Lancashire and Cumbria.
But the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s chief executive, David Butterworth, told the Yorkshire Post that he believed an extension to the boundaries would not prove as problematic as many feared.
He added that the authority supported the move, as long as it was given enough funding to support its work across a wider area and local democracy for communities in the existing park is not eroded.
He said: “It is about considering whether the landscapes are worthy of designation. I do believe that if the boundaries are extended, then it will enhance the area for the people living there.”