Custodians of the Yorkshire Dales National Park have been told it would be “absolutely devastating” if the plug was pulled on helping fund a community hub where visitors and residents can access a diverse range of services.
The annual budget-setting meeting of the national park’s authority saw members agree to hold talks with managers of Hudson House in Reeth, over helping to maintain the national park’s visitor information centre and ranger office in the building amid mounting financial pressures for the authority.
Since the national park’s territory was expanded by almost a third in area in 2016 the authority has not received any extra funding in its core grant from the government to reflect the increase in responsibilities.
In addition, its existing grant has been frozen amid inflationary pressures, meaning its core grant has been cut in real terms by half since 2010.
Unless extra funding from councils is forthcoming, the authority is also considering cuts to its £1m rights of way maintenance programme or handing the responsibility back to local authorities.
The park’s annual £31,000 contribution to the Hudson House goes a long way to keeping the building open, which also houses Swaledale and Arkengarthdale’s library, police office, district council services, the local business forum, Reeth and District Community Transport, and several other services.
Mike Evershed, chair of Hudson House, told the meeting Hudson House’s mission was to further the economic, social, cultural and environmental interests of residents, businesses and visitors.
He said: “In terms of businesses and visitors, I believe it would be very damaging if the visitor centre in Reeth were to close completely. I am well aware that in recent years it has been something of a Cinderella and not a high priority for staffing or stocking.
“But Swaledale is one of the most iconic dales and Reeth a historic centre both for business and recreation. I believe there is scope for us to work with you to reduce costs and improve sales or, if necessary, to find an alternative way to
maintain a tourist information presence in Reeth.”
He said the national park’s centre had been of great importance when there have been emergencies, such as after the devastating flash flooding in 2019.
Mr Evershed said: “So there is considerable concern in the local community that you are planning to close the ranger’s office as well as the visitor centre.”
Underlining the importance of Swaledale to the park in terms of drawing visitors and having a ranger based at Hudson House, Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock urged the authority to be “very careful before you pull the resources”.
Coun Peacock told the meeting she was pushing for the incoming North Yorkshire Council to take on Hudson House as a community office.
She said: “It could be such an important hub. These hubs are vital now more than ever, because despite online meetings we still need face-to-face interactions with the national park and North Yorkshire officers.
“I really would find it absolutely devastating if Hudson House had to close.”
Member Allen Kirkbride told the meeting the rangers based at Hudson House were “very much the face of the national park”.
Park authority chief executive David Butterworth said as members had set visitor services as a lower priority than issues such as conservation or promoting biodiversity, so “chickens were coming home to roost”.
He said: “We used to have a pound, now we have 50 pence, so something has to give unless we can find external funding to assist us with that and we’re not going to find external funding to run visitor centres.”
Mr Butterworth said he was keen to talk to Hudson House’s management about possibilities for the centre, but added authority members would be faced with “a political decision” about its future.
Referring to Coun Peacock’s pledge to lobby North Yorkshire Council, he added: “When you look at their overall budget compared to ours, you’re talking about Manchester City versus Reeth in terms of resources.”