Why rural North Yorkshire could become more attractive to families post-lockdown

Rural North Yorkshire could become a more attractive place for families once the nation emerges from lockdown into a fundamentally changed way of life, according to a leading figure examining how the county can prosper in the coming years.

Heather Hancock, one of eight North Yorkshire Rural Commissioners, said the current national emergency was showing that a remote workforce can be just as effective and productive as one based in an office.

She was speaking at the first virtual session of the Rural Commission, which was set up to come up with policies for local leaders to keep communities in isolated parts of North Yorkshire sustainable in the decades to come.

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The commission had already taken several evidence sessions before the coronavirus lockdown and will now hold online sessions to hear about transport, education and connectivity. And its work, which will now not be complete until next year, will now consider the impact of the pandemic on the future of North Yorkshire.

A view towards rural Dales village of Linton in Craven, located just eight miles north of Skipton, near Grassington with a population of around 176.

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But she said: "We also have a huge offer to families looking for a new way of life outside of the big cities and employers nationally who can see that a remote workforce can still be just as effective and productive.

"Many will review their office rationale and look at the financial and environmental benefits of less commutes to work. We must look at what this could mean for our county and how we can grasp any opportunities while ensuring there is a balanced and diverse economy here.”

Fellow commissioner Dr Debbie Trebilco, a scientist and international businesswoman, said: “The outbreak and imposed extended stay at home rules have actually also helped us to reconnect with some of the most valuable attributes North Yorkshire offers.

"High quality locally and sustainably produced food, the sense of space and joy of a natural and green environment and the positive impact on personal wellbeing that delivers. These are all assets under normal circumstances we would be looking to share with the world and which I feel sure will become even more popular in a post-COVID-19 world.”

And Sir William Worsley – who is also Chair of the Forestry Commission – said: "Things will not be the same again but we have seen how it is to work remotely and still be effective, to travel less and to see the positive impact on the environment, to see businesses diversify their manufacturing to support PPE needs and shops go online to continue to serve their customers.

"We will need to focus on the enablers required to sustain some of these looking ahead.”

Some 85 per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as very rural or super sparse and the Rural Commission was set up in autumn 2019 by North Yorkshire County Council to try and identify ways to help these communities to grow and prosper.

England's largest county faces unprecedented challenges linked to economic and financial pressures, connectivity, climate change, a growing ageing population and Brexit.

According to the commission, its huge scale and scattered populations present significant issues around distances people need to travel for jobs and services, digital connectivity and public transport.

Eight schools have closed in the last three years and the county has a lack of affordable housing, resulting in a drain of young families to urban areas.