Park boss accused of trying to ‘silence members’

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NATIONAL Park authority chiefs were yesterday accused of “stifling legitimate debate” after they drew up a revised communications strategy in the wake of negative coverage.

David Butterworth, the chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) presented the protocol to a meeting earlier this week and referred to recent “bad publicity”.

It is understood that one example given was Yorkshire Post coverage of a trip made by senior officers and members to a London awards ceremony earlier this year, which cost taxpayers £4,000.

At the time, YDNPA member Coun John Blackie criticised the spending during a time of austerity, and yesterday said he felt the new strategy aimed to stop members speaking out on such issues.

Coun Blackie said: “I will not be adhering to it in any way. It is designed to silence members and stifle legitimate debate on matters of public interest.

“I shall continue in the future as I have done in the past, and I made it clear at the meeting that I have no intention of complying with a strategy that could have come out of the Politburo in the worst excesses of the Soviet-era.

“If some of what I say makes some officers and members uncomfortable, then I am afraid that is tough.”

The strategy instructs members to give “the official authority response and decision” when answering questions, but Mr Butterworth told the Yorkshire Post yesterday it was not about “shutting members up”.

He added: “It is simply about making sure that we have a consistency in our line on issues which affect the park.

“National park authorities are fairly unique in that their members often sit on other councils and may say different things when wearing different hats, as it were.

“The strategy aims to ensure that officers and members give a clear message on our position.”

Coun Blackie dismissed Mr Butterworth’s explanation as “stuff and nonsense” and added: “People expect those that they have elected to speak up on their behalf.

“Many people thought the trip to London it was an ill-advised jolly, and that is simply what I said.”