North York Moors '˜faces biggest threat in four decades'

The North York Moors 'is more threatened now than at any time in the last four decades' says campaigner Tom Chadwick, who today joins calls for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to protecting England's National Parks.

Walkers make their way past the purple heather on the North York Moors

Sirius Minerals plans to start construction of Britain’s largest potash mine at Sneatonthorpe after the firm secured funding and the backing of councillors wooed with the promise of more than 1,000 jobs.

“Basically what they are going to do is re-engineer 100 acres of the National Park (NP),” said Mr Chadwick, chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors Association. “They are going to demolish a traditional smallholding and a lot of trees and re-engineer the landscape with 1.5 million cubic metres of spoil.

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“There have been pressures from central Government particularly in terms of statements about the Northern Powerhouse. If that means industrialising National Parks, I think something is seriously wrong.”

Mr Chadwick believes once the enormity of the plans reveal themselves – including, he says, one HGV every three minutes during peak construction on the A171 into Whitby – many will be shocked. “It will be a huge construction site, bigger than anything seen before in a NP and will completely wreck in our view an area of the NP. They should have the best protection of any designated landscape and this knocks a hole through that.”

The threat of fracking is also looming after the Government allowed drilling underneath the Moors as well as in adjacent areas. Meanwhile, a large holiday complex, including a hotel and up to 300 lodges, in the Dales village of Hellifield, would campaigners say, “change the setting of the (Yorkshire Dales) NP with a potentially ugly development”.

Research carried out for the Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust suggests short-term economic priorities are overriding long-held protections and allowing inappropriate development. In the case of the potash mine the strongest argument proved to be the “transformational” economic benefit of more than 1,000 jobs.

The research, by Sheffield Hallam University, found decisions to approve applications often reflect Government “mood” at the time, with policy changes leaning toward economic growth rather than environmental protection.

Mark Corner, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society, points to quarrying in Upper Ribblesdale as an example of where he believes the “major development test”, the central planning protection for the landscape in the parks, should be properly applied.

A quarry run by Tarmac was due to close last June, but the firm applied for an extension. The application has been deferred to decide the minimum amount of stone which can be carried by road. But Mr Corner says quarrying is incompatible with the Park. There is the quarry and “around 400 HGVs come through the Dales and the beautiful market town of Settle daily. It looks horrible, there’s a safety issue and it’s not environmentally friendly”.

It also, he says, fails the test, which says something should only go ahead if there are exceptional circumstances. “The test says can it only be got from here? The answer is: No. ‘Is there a detrimental impact on the environment and the landscape?’ Palpably the answer is yes.

“As soon as there’s a fear of being seen to turn down potential jobs, the test takes a back seat, which cannot be right.”