Come to Yorkshire Dales and help build the homes we need to thrive – Carl Lis

I CHAIR a planning authority in one of the most rural parts of North Yorkshire and I am glad of the opportunity to shout this from the rooftops: housing developers please look our way, and government please do more to support them.

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Yorkshire Dales plea for government intervention as affordable housing crisis fo...

Here in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – particularly in the northern dales such as upper Wensleydale – local people are crying out for new homes. There is a very well-evidenced need for more affordable housing to retain and attract younger people and sustain local communities.

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The need is not new, but for every year that goes by when hardly anything gets built it becomes more urgent. Research we commissioned last year (with Craven and Richmondshire District Councils and North Yorkshire County Council) showed that we need around 50 new houses a year in the National Park until 2040. Just as importantly, at least 30 of those need to be genuinely affordable.

Areas like Hawes are suffering from a dearth of affordable housing.

Last year, however, only 13 homes were built in the Yorkshire part of the National Park; none was affordable. It is quite literally not good enough by half. A lack of planning permissions is not the problem. There are now more than 600 unimplemented permissions for new housing units across the National Park. This year alone, we have granted full planning permission for more than 100 new dwellings.

At the same time, our partners in the housing authorities are putting time and money into trying to bring some of these permissions forward, including with developments in West Witton and Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

So given this shared local commitment, why is progress so slow? The short answer is that we are trying to hold back a national tide of policy, funding and market forces that is simply too strong.

A case study in the town of Hawes illustrates the point. There the primary school (pupil roll falling and on course to fall further) sits prominently at the town head. Dales schools like that at Hawes are usually attractive, large, commanding buildings, a visible recognition that a school represents the beating heart of a rural community.

Carl Lis is chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

There is a field about 50 metres from the Hawes school gates which was put forward as a housing site at the request of the landowner, and which the National Park Authority allocated for 15 new homes in 2012. Since the allocation, nothing has happened, despite gentle nudges and lately, a more pointed prod.

Allow me to say that Park-wide, there is evidence that landowners are not prepared to release land at a price that makes affordable housing development viable.

There is also simply not enough investment coming forward in the sort of small-scale, affordable housing schemes that we need, in part because it’s cheaper to build on large sites outside the National Park in places such as Skipton and Catterick Garrison.

As a planning authority we are doing all we can. We are giving more planning permissions for new homes than ever before, promoting all extant permissions, threatening de-allocation of development sites, identifying lots of potential exception sites, and reviewing policy. But these are the limits of what we can do.

Charlotte Handley is among those who have highlighted the shortage of affordable housing in the Yorkshire Dales.

We do not have the legal powers to build houses or fund house-building. That is why we are working in partnership on the affordable housing shortage with district and county councils, and other bodies.

The National Park Authority realises that sustaining communities is about more than getting affordable homes built, but let me stick to housing for a moment longer.

It is high time the Government took an honest look at the way the housing market is working against local communities in the National Park. There appears to be an insatiable demand for second homes and holiday lets, which year-on-year is squeezing the amount of housing available to people who might want to actually live here.

The problem of too-many-second-homes – highlighted by the Handley family of Bainbridge in The Yorkshire Post – has serious social consequences. Those with the powers to do something about the problem need to act.

What else are we doing to make the Dales a more viable proposition for young families to live? There’s a whole range of things we’re working on such as economic development sites and better broadband.

One project is ‘Great Place: Lakes and Dales’, led by Craven District Council. It is highlighting the importance of the creative industries, art and heritage to the future of the Dales.

The project has more than a dozen ‘creative champions’, young Dales men and women who love this place and are dedicated to the rural communities in which they live or work. Listen to one of them, Virpi, an animator and firm director. Living in the Dales offers more time and space, she says, and there is so much inspiration here to create.

The Yorkshire Dales is a great place to live. There is indeed space on the roads (most of the year), in the schools and on the hills. If we can get those affordable homes built, and other infrastructure improved, local communities here will thrive.

Carl Lis is chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.