A Dales councillor has described proposals to overhaul the governance of one of the country’s largest national parks by cutting the number of elected councillors who make decisions as “a loss of democracy”.
Councillor Yvonne Peacock said she fears many residents of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and particularly those in the Richmondshire and North Yorkshire parts of the 2,179sq km area, will be hugely under-represented if the park authority’s proposals to cut its board from 25 to 16 from April 2021 are passed next month.
Cllr Peacock will launch a notice of motion at a meeting of Richmondshire District Council this week with the aim of pressuring the park authority maintain the membership at 25 or limiting the reduction.
She said the changes would be grossly unfair as they would see six North Yorkshire members represent 2,689 residents each, four Cumbria members represent 1,769 residents each and two Lancashire members represent just 139 residents each, alongside four government appointed members.
Under the proposals, Richmondshire would be the least well represented area with one member per 2,237 population.
Cllr Peacock said residents of the national park had the same right as those living elsewhere to have a local representative they could contact over controversial issues such as planning.
She said: “I feel very strongly we are losing our democracy.”
The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said the proposals were a “retrograde step” and the council would write to the park authority asking for the changes to be limited. He said: “The must be a value in local representation. This does not appear to be sensible or fair.”
The proposals follow the Glover Review of national parks last year which concluding membership of the governing authorities was “far too large to be effective”and found boards should be cut to between nine and 12 members.
It stated: “The result is that officers spend an excessive amount of time servicing these bloated boards. One national park spends an entire day in committee each month, and not discussing the important issues of the day.”
The report found the park authorities suffered from the same demographic
biases as most councils, lacking proper representation across age, gender, ethnicity and disability.
It stated: “We’ve found local people often feel national park authorities are remote, despite the heavy presence of locally-elected representatives.
The most is not made of Secretary of State appointees.”
In a report to members about the proposed changes, the authority’s chief executive David Butterworth said the task of reviewing the membership of the was “an extremely difficult and sensitive one”, but shortcomings in membership that arose with the 2016 extension to the national park.
He said while members had seen some sense in the Glover proposals, they believed it remained important to retain the local/national split on the authority board.
Mr Butterworth said members thought 12 local members and founr national members making up the board would be “the best way forward in delivering governance proposals that are fit for the 21st century and can best support delivery of the national park authority’s purposes and objectives into the future”.
One of the North Yorkshire County Council members of the park authority, Councillor Stuart Parsons, said its local authority members had “little democratic accountability” as they were selected by the ruling party at the council. He added Cllr Peacock had overseen a 29 per cent cut in members at the Richmondshire council.
He said: “If they are going to make changes, the changes have to be not just to numbers, but in the way in which people are selected.”