Bid to protect rural communities

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A campaigning bid to stem the loss of local families from one of the region’s most rural communities has reached a critical stage as plans are submitted to build its first ever social housing to rent.

Too many young families are leaving the area around Arkengarthdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, councillors warn, with pupil numbers at the village primary school falling to just nine on the roll in recent months.

Arkengarthdale

Arkengarthdale

One of the key challenges has been over a lack of affordable housing to rent, campaigners say, and the scheme from the Upper Dales Community Land Trust would see four homes built, to be held in perpetuity for this purpose.

While these are still small numbers they add – if the plans, are passed in November – in some way to easing an emerging social crisis in this isolated and historic community.

“I am excited by the prospect of providing these four desperately needed affordable houses to rent in perpetuity,” said Independent county councillor John Blackie, chairman of the housing trust.

“They are long overdue, but better late than never, and will help to stem the loss of local young families which the housing need survey confirmed are leaving because they have no chance of being able to afford to live in Arkengarthdale.

“The aim is to attract and retain young families. We are fighting the best way we can.”

Debate was sparked earlier this year over options to secure a future for such rural communities, following concerns from the Yorkshire Dales National Park that it faced the biggest crisis in its history amidst a combination of social and economic pressures.

Challenges were raised over prohibitive house prices, ageing communities, access and a loss of local services, with a hotly contested bid to raise council tax for second home owners ditched in the wake of fierce opposition. In Arkengarthdale, where around one in three houses are second homes, the challenge for families, say parish councillors as pupil numbers fall from 14 to nine in the past year, is even starker.

Coun Stephen Stubbs, chairman of Arkengarthdale Parish Council and vice-chairman of the Upper Dales Community Land Trust, said: “Our excellent Arkengarthdale Primary School, established 358 years ago in 1660, is sadly now down to just nine pupils so the new houses, if approved and built quickly, could provide a lifeline to keep it open.

“It would break the heart of our community to see it closed especially as in the true spirit of self-reliance famous in the Upper Dales we have seen key signs of regeneration recently.”

Citing growth at the nearby CB Hotel and Inn in Langthwaite, now a major employer in the Dale and employing increasing numbers of staff, he said there were opportunities for growth in the area which would increase need for affordable housing to rent. “We wanted to deliver a beacon scheme and we have got one,” he added. Coun Blackie, volunteer executive chairman for the closely-linked Upper Dales Community Partnership which runs services including the area’s Post Office, petrol station and bus service, said the community is increasingly becoming self-reliant.

The bid for the community housing is just the beginning, he added, with around £700,000 needed to be secured to build the homes were permission granted.

“However for houses that will remain forever in the ownership of the community in Arkengarthdale, and available plus affordable to rent for its residents, it is a small investment that will underpin a brighter future for the Dale.”