EVEN though a proposal to levy a council tax surcharge on second homes in the Yorkshire Dales continues to polarise opinion, the divisive debate has helped to bring the future of the iconic National Park into sharp focus.
For, while the natural beauty of the Dales continues to attract visitors from around the world, the picture postcard scenery masks the fragility of the rural economy and the scale of the challenges facing policy-makers.
More than six decades after this cherished corner of North Yorkshire was designated as a National Park, it is fighting for its future as a result of demographic changes.
A combination of an ageing population, and property prices beyond the reach of young people who grew up, or are growing up, in the Dales, means local services and amenities are struggling to survive.
Yet, as a new framework for the future is drawn up, evolution rather than revolution should be the guiding principle. Change is necessary, and already overdue in many areas, but there’s no reason why new developments can’t respect the area’s unique character.
And, while it is intended that the council tax overhaul will generate much-needed funds for affordable housing, new homes are only part of the solution. Arguably, the number one priority is the creation of a new generation of jobs, whether it be in agriculture, tourism or the emerging digital sector.
This objective will need to be reflected in new planning policies, but their success, or otherwise, hinges on Ministers accelerating the rollout of high-speed broadband so residents, and visitors, can actually access the internet for example.
In this regard, Brexit does, in fact, provide a once in a generation opportunity to reform and refine areas like the Dales as Britain takes back control of agricultural policy and subsidy arrangements, but it will still require a collective effort like no other by local, regional and national leaders to enable this iconic park to survive, and thrive, in the decades to come.