The new North Yorkshire Mayor needs to sort out the mess that is housing policy - Paul Andrews

Dear David Skaith, Congratulations on your election as the new mayor of York and North Yorkshire. I am sure local residents will welcome a fresh look at the issues which face us.

North Yorkshire is essentially a rural area, where rural businesses and tourism thrive. We need to keep a balance between the interests of tourism and rural businesses and prevent our beautiful county from becoming predominantly a commuter belt and retirement destination. Sadly, current planning policy does not adequately address these issues.

Huge housing estates are being built in the towns, where there is inadequate drainage and sewerage to accommodate them, and road access is poor, while houses in attractive villages are taken over by holiday lets and second homes which remain unoccupied half the year. This has resulted in a breakdown of local communities, the loss of local community facilities such as local pubs, churches and shops and the pricing out of local people, particularly agricultural workers, from ever being able to buy or rent houses and live locally. At the same time, commuters have moved into the new estates. The contribution of commuters to the local economy in towns outside Scarborough, Whitby and Harrogate is not great and their benefit is in any event outweighed by massive traffic congestion and increased pollution from outdated Victorian sewers and drains.

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It has become virtually impossible to build new houses in the villages and the countryside, as policy treats them as though they were in a national park or AONB – even when they are outside them.

David Skaith is the Mayor of North Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA WireDavid Skaith is the Mayor of North Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
David Skaith is the Mayor of North Yorkshire. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

This policy has been so effective that newspaper columnists and others freely refer to much of the countryside as “green belt” when the only designated green belt is the one surrounding York city. These policies are inconsistent with central government circulars which allow disused barns and other agricultural buildings in the open countryside to be converted into houses. By another weird twist of policy, if you are rich enough to build your own innovative designer mansion with steel or concrete frame, fully glazed walls, timber cladding, and butterfly roof, you can build it almost anywhere without restriction – no matter how little it conforms to local character.

It was not always like this. Twenty years ago, there was not the same pressure for holiday lets and second homes; there was less of an exodus from the cities into the country, and there was less worry about the environmental impact of vehicle emissions. Money was available to build new village halls, and much was done to enhance local community life. It was recognised that all settlements needed room to expand. So, development limits were set for each town and village to allow for growth.

Then came the concern about car and lorry emissions and the NIMBY lobby promptly seized this as an argument to freeze the county in aspic.

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The mistaken view was taken that most rural villages (apart from a few “service” villages) are “unsustainable due to their remote locations and limited services or facilities”, and that their communities should therefore be allowed to die. So, the pubs and shops closed, the churches were either closed or parishes merged, the price of local houses mushroomed, and local people are now outpriced out of the housing and letting markets to accommodate second homes and holiday lets. Development limits have remained in force unchanged for 30 years or more, preventing growth in most villages.

The share of the region’s housing requirements set by the old regional authorities for each district has remained unreviewed and unchanged since the abolition of regional government in 2010.

Local Plans are required to be reviewed every five years, but then along came last year’s reorganisation, and the new authority was given five years to come up with a new plan for the whole county. So, all work on the review of existing local plans was halted, and, in effect, postponed for another five years.

Developers have been invited to submit proposals for new sites. These will inevitably be mainly for sites within towns. The public rarely takes an interest in things which do not have a direct and immediate impact on themselves. So, they will blissfully ignore the consultation until the moment they find there is an application to develop an allocated site on their doorstep, when all hell breaks loose.

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So, Mr. Skaith, please intervene and use your influence to sort out this mess. The pressure on the towns needs to be taken off and more growth allowed outside them.

Where new infrastructure is required, it should be provided before new houses are built. New houses in country areas could be permitted subject to a condition prohibiting their occupation by anybody who is not going to use the house to live in as their only or main residence.

Paul Andrews is a freelance writer and author. He is an honorary alderman of North Yorkshire council and a former mayor of Malton.

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