Fears that Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could become 'barren' due to lack of affordable housing

A lack of affordable homes in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is forcing young and low-paid families to move away, a meeting has heard.

Members of Harrogate Council’s overview and scrutiny commission last night called for greater action to bring forward more affordable homes in the area which has seen average property prices climb to around £320,000, according to Zoopla.

The AONB covers around two thirds of the Harrogate district but only has nine per cent of its population and Coun Tom Watson, who represents the Nidd Valley ward, expressed fears that it could become “barren”.

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He said: “If we don’t have small developments in the area, village schools are going to close, pubs are already on the way out and village shops are also going to go.

“The AONB is there to protect the countryside, but we have got to make sure the area is a living one and not barren.”

Created in 1994, the AONB was introduced to conserve the countryside with levels of protection from developments.

A total of 253 homes were recently proposed at sites in Darley, Dacre, Summerbridge and Pateley Bridge under the borough council’s Local Plan, however, a government planning inspector ruled that they would have had too great an impact.

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Since then, a growing number of residents have struggled to get a footing on the property ladder with 227 households currently on the council’s waiting list for social housing in Upper Nidderdale.

And with an average of just 20 vacancies becoming available each year, the waiting list would take around 10 years to clear if no more households came forward.

Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats, described the situation as “really sad” and said efforts to build affordable homes on small plots of council-owned land were only a “tiny drop in the ocean”.

Council planners said they were also demanding affordable homes be built at developments of more than 10 properties to try tackle the problem.

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However, Jenny Kerfoot, executive officer for housing growth at the council, said landowners were often reluctant to bring forward plans for affordable housing because of the smaller profits involved.

She added the council was hopeful these landowners have “given up hope that their land is worth a lot of money” now that the Local Plan has been adopted and any large developments have been ruled out.

She said: “There won’t be any of these big sites in the AONB or predominantly for market housing so it’s our intention now to approach those landowners.”

Coun Victoria Oldham, who represents the Washburn ward, said another possible solution would be the conversion of disused farm buildings, but she added any new developments were often met with opposition from locals.

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She said: “We all know little pockets of land in the area where a pair of semis could easily go, but half of the problem would be the negativity from parish councils or people in the immediate vicinity.

“I’m pretty much against large developments in the AONB because we haven’t got the transport facilities. A lot of places don’t even have shops or post offices - and you can forget banking.

“But one or two houses in areas would be of benefit as something needs to be done.”