North York Moors National Park tables new 15-year plan to save its rural communities

A wider choice of new, affordable homes and a year-round supply of jobs needs to be created in the North York Moors to halt an alarming population decline and a loss of its services, according to a new long-term vision for the National Park.

POPULATION DECLINE: A low number of young people are choosing to stay and live in the North York Moors National Park. PIC: James Hardisty

Low wages from farming and seasonal tourism, steep house prices, closures of schools, shops and post offices, and the withdrawal of bus services, has heaped pressure on the National Park’s deeply rural communities, a new draft Local Plan for the area explains.

The planning blueprint, drawn up to guide development and policy decisions in the National Park over the next 15 years, recognises that action is needed even if the quality of life in the park is still considered to be “generally very good” with low crime, clean air and access to some of the nation’s most stunning countryside.

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The plan includes a target to build 551 new homes in the park between 2020 and 2035 - including 188 in Helmsley.

Malcolm Bowes, deputy chairman of the North York Moors National Park Authority, said the National Park “is not a museum” and cannot be treated as such if it is to thrive.

“Its landscape has evolved over millennia and has been influenced by more than 10,000 years of human habitation,” said Mr Bowes, who is the chairman of the working group behind the development of the draft plan.

“This Local Plan is concerned with the next 15 years. It seeks to balance the overriding need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park, with the need for new homes, jobs and services.”

The plan must manage these often competing aims, he said, by putting in place policies to guide “careful” decision making on where new development will be located and how it looks and functions.

“Our goal is to leave to future generations a National Park that is even more beautiful, healthy and culturally rich than the one we inherited,” Mr Bowes said.

The Local Plan for the North York Moors identifies many issues which echo the challenges that threaten the sustainability of life in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, as covered by The Yorkshire Post in a special report earlier this year.

In the North York Moors, there was a net loss of 1,108 people; a 4.2 per cent population slump, between 2001 and 2016, and one of the new plan’s aims is to reverse that trend and encourage more younger people to stay in or move into the area.

Just one in four residents is aged under 30 with young families being priced out. On average a house costs £255,342, more than £12,000 higher than on average nationally.

Where new housing is built every effort has to go into ensuring it is of a type, size, tenure and price that supports communities’ long-term sustainability, the new draft plan states.

It explains that around a third of household incomes are £20,000 or less and so there is a need to encourage better paid and more diverse jobs, and to flatten a trend of seasonal employment.

The importance of local services to rural villages is recognised in the plan, stating that polices need to seek to prevent their loss. In recent years, the villages of Lealholm, Mickleby and Sawdon have lost their Post Offices, Danby and Swainby have seen their general stores shut and Swainby and Ingleby Arncliffe no longer have primary schools.

Transport and connectivity are also highlighted and opportunities must be seized to improve access to and within the Moors, to roll out electric car charging points and to design better car parking in villages.

If the plan is signed off by the park’s planning committee on Thursday, it will go out to public consultation between July 30 and October 12 before the Government’s approval is sought in February next year.

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