A watchdog group has raised concerns after the election of a trustee of a conservation campaign group to lead a Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee.
The Association of Rural Communities (ARC), which has lobbied for more democracy and accountability alongside consistency and fairness in planning decisions since 1995, has questioned the appointment of Julie Martin to the key role on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
An ARC spokeswoman said potential conflict of interest issues had arisen despite it having asked the committee to consider the authority’s own code of conduct “to ensure that in the planning process there are no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been biased”.
The spokeswoman said when Ms Martin explained why she felt she should be chairman of the authority’s planning committee last month she did not mention she remained a trustee of the Friends of the Dales.
The ARC spokeswoman said: “The Friends of the Dales states that it is a campaigning group, it does lobby the national park authority and regularly objects to barn conversion applications.”
ARC has questioned how a trustee of the Friends of the Dales could be seen by the general public as being an impartial chairman of the planning committee who could, on occasions, have a crucial casting vote.
Councillor John Amsden, chairman of Richmondshire District Council’s planning committee and a member of the park authority’s planning committee, said he remained undecided over whether Ms Martin’s appointment had created a conflict of interest.
Ms Martin has 30 years’ experience of assessing the impacts of major developments within sensitive rural environments, as well as advising government agencies and local authorities on conservation and sustainable development policy.
She is also regarded among the UK’s leading experts in landscape and visual assessment.
A spokesman for the authority said since the new Local Plan came in, the authority has approved 124 barn conversions into dwellings, against ten refusals.
He said: “Mrs Martin’s involvement with the Friends of the Dales is a matter of public record. Many councillors and members of national park authorities are also members of other organisations.
“Like all other authority members, she has completed a register of interests, which can be viewed by members of the public on the authority’s website. All members of the planning committee are expected to follow the authority’s code of conduct, which sets out the standard of conduct expected of each and every member when fulfilling their role.”