Criticism that Dales’ planning chiefs are being overly influenced by a campaign group have been dismissed as “nonsense” as a row sparked by the refusal of three barn conversions rumbles on into its second month.
Long-standing Upper Dales councillor John Blackie has accused members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s (YDNPA) planning committee of causing “great distress, open resentment and outright anger” in Dales communities by refusing to allow the barn conversions near Appersett, Hawes and Grinton at its meeting last month.
He has gone further by claiming that campaign group the Friends of the Dales had been “driving the planners to be more hostile” in their approach to barn conversion applications - something that has been reticently denied by authority chairman Coun Carl Lis, and the group itself.
Coun Blackie, himself a member of the YDNPA since 1997, said the decision to refuse the plans flied in the face of the Authority’s pledge to support measures to attract and retain young families in the Dales, had resulted in “palpable public tension” and that a “celebratory” article in the Friends’ publication the Yorkshire Dales Review on the meeting was “thoroughly distasteful”.
In an email to YDNPA members, Coun Blackie wrote: “In this febrile atmosphere, the inappropriate celebration of the Friends of the Dales of the refusal of these three planning applications is entirely misplaced and only goes on to fan the flames of the divisiveness between the YDNPA and the local communities it is there to serve. There has long been a suspicion that the Friends of the Dales have been driving the planners at the YDNPA to be more hostile towards their approach to barn conversion applications.”
Coun Blackie told the Yorkshire Post: “They seem to have no comprehension of the crisis that we are facing, with the exodus of young people from the Dales due to the lack of affordable housing. These decisions were life-shattering for those involved.”
In the article, Friends chairman Mark Corner described the barn decision as “excellent”. He wrote: “While we appreciate that authority members are trying to sustain communities, we risk damaging the area’s special qualities. We are acutely concerned at the significant harmful impact on the landscape and scenic beauty of the Dales posed by the inappropriate conversion of traditional farm buildings since the planning rules were relaxed.”
He told the Yorkshire Post he was “surprised and disappointed” at Coun Blackie’s characterisation of the piece, and said he was “perplexed” by his comments that the group was driving planners to be hostile.
“The extent of our intervention is that we submit comments on some planning applications, as anyone is entitled to do as part of the planning process,” he said. “This is one amongst many inputs that the planners have in making their recommendations to the Planning Committee, not least of which are the Local Plan and specific planning policies.”
Plenty of local people “young and old” quietly welcomed the decision, YDNA chairman Carl Lis said.
He said the “flexible” policy had allowed more than 100 applications to be approved, and just eight refused.
“But the policy doesn’t, and cannot, allow a free-for-all across the unique farmed landscape of the Dales,” he said. “Whilst many barns are in suitable locations for conversion near to roads, we can’t alter the fact that many simply aren’t.
“And the idea that our planners are overly influenced by the Friends of the Dales is nonsense; they are professionals who take everyone’s view into account.”