Evolution and not revolution

PERHAPS the most striking aspect of yesterday’s countryside summit in North Yorkshire was the pride and passion of the contributors as they warned that the Dales could become a “theme park” unless there were more affordable homes – and better employment opportunities – for younger people.

The testimonies could not have been more powerful. Wensleydale Creamery boss David Hartley warned that “we cannot continue to allow the endangered species – young people – to disappear”; hill farmer Amanda Owen spoke of Swaledale becoming an enclave for the rich while Linda Cork, the retired head of Gunnerside School, explained the difficulties in recruiting teachers because of high property prices.

These are not politicians with agendas of their own ahead of the next election. These, and the other proponents of change who spoke with such eloquence, are passionate about the future of the Yorkshire Dales and the need for affirmative action if the area is to survive and thrive.

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Yet their message – evolution rather than revolution – is one which needs to be embraced by policy-makers locally and nationally as young families decide in increasingly significant numbers that a life in the countryside, an idyllic prospect to many, is no longer realistic from a financial standpoint.

Even though rural affairs will be low down the priority list of the main political parties at next year’s general election, the issue must not be overlooked. The reason is this. Without the tourism income generated by visitors to the countryside, the national finances of Great Britain plc will be even more parlous.

Yet, unless areas like the Yorkshire Dales are affordable to families committed to preserving Britain’s countryside heritage and traditions, the rural economy will stagnate. That is why doing nothing is no longer an option.

Civic commitment: York Council leader to resign

WHERE are the next generation of civic leaders? It is a question that arises from the intention of York Council leader James Alexander to step aside in order to pursue a new policy role with the Labour Party. The decision effectively signals the end of the local government career of a trailblazer who became one of Britain’s youngest ever council leaders in May 2011 when his party secured the keys to the Guildhall.

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Those who have followed the past year’s political machinations in York will not be altogether surprised by the decision – the u-turn on the Lendal Bridge became an unnecessary fiasco and the ruling Labour group has become involved in a bruising battle with its opponents over the number of new homes which should be built in the city.

However Coun Alexander’s departure does need to be seen in this context. His leadership has been committed to raising the profile of York and ensuring that the city’s tourism industry is underpinned by a strong and robust economy with the potential to expand. This should be acknowledged. He will also be a tough act to follow – difficult decisions remain on the local plan and York cannot afford to stand still if it is to continue prospering.

Yet it does not bode well for the future when energetic leaders like Coun Alexander, and Mehboob Khan who stepped down earlier this year as leader of Kirklees Council, feel they have no more to offer. For, even if their decisions were not universally popular, at least they were prepared to stand up and be counted at a time when Britain’s town halls are in need of more dynamic councillors motivated by the best of civic intentions.

Cycling challenge: Changing mindset of planners

AT LEAST Sheffield has a valid reason for lagging behind the rest of Britain’s major population centres when it comes to cycling provision – it is, after all, the city that has been built on seven hills and even the Tour de France peloton found the Cote de Jenkin Road to be one of the more daunting challenges of this year’s race.

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The same cannot be said of Leeds – the Grand Départ host city enjoys relatively flat terrain in comparison. Yet, despite this, the willingness of local councillors to embrace cycling has been called into question by a campaign group that believes far more can, and should, be done to encourage commuters to take to two wheels.

However, while Leeds Council will point to the progress that has been made in spite of budgetary constraints, momentum needs to be maintained. A simple start would be to ensure that every planning application has to pass a cycling compatibility test before it can be given the green light.