Incredibly warm welcome for young couple in Dales village highlights area's housing woes: Andrew Vine

A young couple I know have just stretched themselves to the limit to buy a home in a village near Skipton, and the warmth of the welcome they have received from neighbours has astonished them.

The reason they have been welcomed so enthusiastically is that people like them are increasingly a rarity in too many Dales villages – new residents who have come to work as well as live in the area and whose children will attend the local school.

The neighbours who have been popping round to greet them are all saying the same thing – it’s so nice to see a young family coming to live in the village, rather than another property being snapped up as a holiday home to be used only at weekends or rented out.

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Villages across vast swathes of North Yorkshire need more residents like my friends – people who are going to be part of local communities, bringing new energy to them and helping to keep schools open.

Andrew Vine has his say.Andrew Vine has his say.
Andrew Vine has his say.

The stunning scenery of the Dales, which will be a magnet for countless visitors this summer, hides some disturbing realities including rural poverty and an alarming social decline which is seeing the young effectively priced out of living there.

If it was a stretch for my friends – both with well-paid jobs – to buy a home in an area they have always loved, property ownership in the Dales is simply

beyond many others in their 20s and 30s.

It is one of the cruelties of the housing market in some of Yorkshire’s most attractive rural areas that it is effectively excluding young people who have grown up there and would like to stay, building family lives of their own.

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Property prices – inflated at least in part by demand for second homes – make that impossible, and so the young leave, heading instead for Leeds or Bradford where there is at least a chance of getting a foot on the housing ladder as well as better career prospects.

But this risks condemning rural communities to a slow death as populations grow older and schools shut because of falling rolls.

And if that happens, what will be left behind? The answer is already to be found in villages on the Yorkshire coast, including Staithes and Runswick Bay, where the numbers of holiday properties so greatly exceed those occupied by residents that walking the streets outside the peak summer weeks feels uncannily like being in a ghost town because there is hardly anybody around.

Tackling the housing crisis in Yorkshire’s rural communities is one of our county’s most pressing social issues, but the difficulties of doing so were demonstrated last week when a plan for new housing in the Dales was sent away for a rethink.

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The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority was told that targets for new housing could result in houses effectively being built for commuters travelling to work in Leeds or Bradford.

And to further complicate matters, despite support for the plan from councils, hundreds of residents had objected to new homes being built close to where they live.

The usual not-in-my-backyard response to any proposed development will account for quite a few of the objections, but it’s a fair assumption that some are from people wary that new properties will be snapped up as holiday lets, instead of becoming homes for people who live and work in the area.

That is a legitimate worry, given what has happened to the property market in some of the prime spots in the Dales.

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But the shortage of new housing is undeniable and was underlined by the conclusions of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission in 2021 on what needs to be done if remote communities are to have a future.

It proposed that each parish in rural areas needed to see five houses built over the next 10 years, 40 per cent of which should be affordable for first-time buyers or available to rent.

A lack of affordable homes – aggravated by poor public transport and slow internet that holds companies back – was identified by the commission as a serious threat to many villages and market towns because they left young people who ought to be the future of their communities with no option but to move away in search of work and somewhere to live.

It is an uncomfortable thought that spiralling mortgage costs are currently making the dream of home ownership in the Dales even more unattainable for the young, and a decline in the property market as a result might even make it harder to persuade developers to build affordable housing.

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But despite objections from residents who don’t want the views from their front windows spoiled by new homes – or concerns that yet more weekenders buy up what is on offer – North Yorkshire’s planners are right to press on with housebuilding, because without it, not only the dreams of the young are in jeopardy, but the area’s future as well.