Pioneering plans place Dales in lead role to tackle housing crisis

THE first planning blueprint of its kind has been drawn up for the Yorkshire Dales National Park to tackle a deepening housing crisis as property prices have bucked the national trend and soared to record levels.

The new policies have been drawn up over the past five years and will provide a far more pro-active approach to addressing the critical lack of affordable housing in what is one of the country’s property hotspots.

The need for new homes was identified as the most pressing issue to preserve local communities amid an intense demand for second homes.

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While property markets have slumped across many parts of the country, the Yorkshire Dales has weathered the economic downturn and an average home now costs £287,180. But a quarter of all incomes for the national park’s 10,000 households average just £16,264, with the local economy centred on the relatively poorly paid farming and tourism sectors.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s head of sustainable development, Peter Stockton, admitted the housing crisis remains the most pressing issue in the area.

He said: “Everyone from local people to the Government and housing experts have been telling us that this is the one issue that needs to be addressed.

“We have spent the last five years drawing up the new policies which we hope will provide a far more proactive approach to dealing with the problem.”

The new approach will be the first time that an over-arching planning blueprint has been created to pinpoint specific locations for development since the national park was created in 1954.

A shortlist of 35 sites for housing has been finalised after landowners were asked to come forward with potential locations.

A total of 143 sites were initially earmarked, although these were whittled down to the 35 locations covering a total of 26 acres.

About 240 homes could be built across these sites over the next decade, although Mr Stockton stressed developers still need to be found and planning consent would have to be obtained from the authority.

Policies adopted in 2005 which imposed a ban on new homes being sold to outsiders are due to be made even more stringent. Existing policies dictate new developments have to include a 50-50 split between affordable housing and homes that can be sold on the open market.

However, the revised plans would mean half of all homes would need to be affordable with the remainder provided specifically for local people.

The bulk of the proposed development would centre on four main locations – Hawes, Grassington, Sedbergh and Reeth.

But villages including Malham, West Witton, Dent and Aysgarth are all included as potential development sites.

Concerns have been raised by local communities as well as the Yorkshire Dales Society about the scale of development. The society’s chairman, Colin Speakman, claimed new homes should be centred on the national park’s biggest settlements which have the best transport infrastructure and facilities.

He said: “In principle, the society is right behind the proposals, but the landscape of the national park has to come first.

“We do believe that the homes should be built in the larger settlements as this is where the greatest resources are available already.”

A Government planning inspector, David Vickery, will preside over a public hearing from January 17 to 19 in Bainbridge and then Grassington for the final day. He is due to announce in the spring if the policies should be adopted.