Plans to convert three barns in the Yorkshire Dales have been dramatically refused after a tense meeting which opened up deep divisions within the National Park.
It took a casting vote from the National Park’s planning committee chairman Caroline Thornton-Berry to break a deadlock with members split on whether to approve the schemes despite legal advice about potential financial ramifications for the National Park if the schemes were granted.
As reported in The Yorkshire Post, plans to convert four barns near Appersett, Hawes, Grinton and Bainbridge into new homes for young families - with one also proposed as a possible holiday let - were recommended for refusal ahead of the meeting.
Decisions on all but the Bainbridge barn had already been deferred as members had been minded to approve them, contrary to planning officers’ advice.
At the 11th hour, the Bainbridge scheme was withdrawn but the other schemes were rejected.
Park authority chairman Carl Lis said the decisions will “conserve the open, farmed landscape of the Yorkshire Dales” but other members argued that there was an overriding need to retain young families in the Dales amid a dearth of affordable housing.
Mr Lis said: “I need to stress that we are permitting lots of barn conversions – 99 of them since 2015, against eight refusals – but they do need to be in the right locations.”
“Approvals for the three applications today would have led to landscape harm, in part because such developments would bring with them new tracks, car parking, lighting, overhead lines and the other facilities necessary for residential use.
“I think it is not a case of deciding between looking after the landscape and looking after local people. The two must be taken together, as it is the fantastic landscape of the Park that provides the engine for the local economy.”
At the meeting, some members ignored legal advice in favour of the schemes but officers warned the plans fell foul of policies that aim to conserve the national park and that the proposals threatened its architecturally and historically important features.
None of the eight members who voted to reject the schemes explained why, but officers said unless they had defensible reasons for going against the authority’s policy, they risked making unlawful decisions.
Members were told that approving the plans could lead to judicial reviews, which if quashed could land the authority with “a heavy financial penalty”.
Upper Dales councillor John Blackie said he did not believe approving the plans would “open the floodgates” for inappropriate developments and members had to show solidarity for residents wanting to stay in the area.
Richmondshire District Council leader Yvonne Peacock urged members to reject legal advice and let the Secretary of State rule on the matter, saying: “We can’t expect to sustain our communities and to look after our landscape if we don’t have people wanting to live and work in the Dales. Let us send the decision and say we believe in attracting families for our schools and communities. This is what we are here for.”