Councillor makes plea to planners over barn conversions for families

Pike Hill Barn looking from Hawes. Photo: YDNPA.

Upper Dales county councillor John Blackie has issued a plea to planners to approve four barn conversions in the Yorkshire Dales despite warnings approval could be unlawful.

Four applicatiocns for barn conversions will go before the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee  today.

Officers have warned the 17 members on the committee that if it approves Wensleydale and Swaledale barn conversion schemes today, the monitoring officer would have to report the committee’s “unlawful” actions to the full authority.

But in a letter to all members on the committee Cllr Blackie, stresses that all four applications are intended for local young families.

Urging members to approve the applications, he adds: “I say straight away that planning officers are fully entitled to their professional opinions, and I will stand up to defend their right, but on the other hand, members of the planning committee are entitled to test to the limit the flexibility always present when interpreting any planning policy, and providing material planning considerations to support an alternative opinion.

“Despite all the good intentions expressed at the authority meetings and in the YDNP Management plan to do whatever we all can to retain and attract young families to the Dales, the short point is that YDNPA is not putting its planning approvals for barn conversions where its mouth is.

“I am sorry to have to say the local communities in the Upper Dales are saying to me with one voice that hollow words will not provide the houses we need to ensure that young families are present here in the future, this desperately important because without them the Upper Dales has no future at all.”

Until recently, residential conversion of barns – most of which were built between the 16th and 19th centuries to enable cattle to be kept and fed with hay in the upland area over winter – had been confined to those within settlements.

After exempting national parks from relaxed rules for agricultural buildings conversion into homes in 2013, the Government told national parks to take a proactive approach to residential barn conversions in future.

In response, the Yorkshire Dales authority launched policies to allow barn conversions for residential use at suitable roadside locations and in other groups of buildings.

Members have said a proposed barn conversion scheme near Hawes met the authority’s policies and was acceptable as it was sited within a community.

But officers said members appeared to have “misinterpreted” the authority’s policies as the barn was more than 200m from Hawes and that granting the scheme would leave the planning committee “in a position where it has difficulty in refusing other applications”.

Officers said the other barn schemes failed to meet other policies designed to meet the authority’s statutory first purpose – to conserve the national park.