Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has dealt a blow to democracy, it has been claimed, after its members overwhelmingly voted in favour of cutting the number of people making decisions.
After members of the authority were warned they faced battling out “a war of attrition” over controversial proposals to cut its board from 25 to 16 members, 17 members approved a move to have the legal minimum number of members from each council the park covered.
The meeting heard the changes would mean a small number of residents in the Lancaster City and Lancashire County council areas of the park would be over-represented compared to residents in the large Richmondshire District and North Yorkshire areas of the park.
The authority’s board will also include four parish councillors and four people appointed by the Secretary of State.
A full meeting of the authority heard warnings that unless the membership was significantly reduced a much more radical cut would be imposed on it by the government.
Members were told while the authority’s future in a devolved North Yorkshire area remained unclear, the authority needed to remain mindful that the government commissioned Glover review of national parks last year had concluded boards needed to be significantly reduced.
Member champion for recreation management Nick Cotton said the proposal was “the fairest solution that was within our control to make”.
Fellow member Cosima Towneley said: “It is not the size of the committee that matters, it is the efficacy of the membership. I find it much easier to work with those who are willing to work and not sit and simply talk. I hope that people will not simply reject them because they think the more the merrier.”
Richmondshire District Council member Stuart Parsons added the proposals did not go far enough, saying there should be some form of selection on merit for the eight county and district councillors who would sit on the authority after being selected on political patronage.
He said local authorities should only nominate people who have “a true interest in both the national and local issues within the national park.
He added: “We need some form of exam. Those interest in North Yorkshire could fill it out and the top one gets the place.”
However, a number of councillors said they felt the changes would reduce representation for residents, while others said there was little choice but to pass the changes.
Member Richard Welch highlighted how an officers’ report to the meeting stated the proposals would enable “strong local involvement” to continue.
He said: “I can’t understand why anybody has put that. It’s totally wrong. Today isn’t D-Day, it’s treble D-Day. Death of democracy in the Dales.”
The authority’s longest-serving member, Robert Heseltine said the national park authority’s changes were “not in the interests of its people, not in the interests of its businesses”.
He said: “Overall the recommendations diminish public representation at a time when local rural voices have never been needed more.”
After the meeting, the Association of Rural Communities described the decision as “a black day for local democracy and representation”. It said it was likely worse would be to come with disenfranchisement from local democracy for a quarter of England’s population.
The campaign group said the Glover Review had also proposed a National Landscape Service which will include all national park authorities and areas of outstanding natural beauty and that their members should be selected by the Secretary of State.
A spokeswoman for the association said: “The government’s decision to extend the boundaries of the Yorkshire Dales National Park has led to the absurdities which now exist in the membership of this quango: that a Lancashire City councillor will have the same voting power as the single representative of Yorkshire County Council even if the former represents only a population within the Park of 139 while the latter will represent 2,689. That is no criticism of the individual councillors.”