Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has been accused of ‘cherry picking’ which planning applications it supports.
The criticism was made at a planning meeting yesterday by the Association of Rural Communities (ARC), a campaign group which monitors the work of the park authority.
It followed a decision to approve a barn conversion near Gayle to create a human-horse healing business, despite the planning officer admitting in their report that the development would be a “departure from the local plan”.
However, the authority has recently rejected a number of applications to convert barns into housing for local families because the proposals were against the authority’s policies.
The ARC statement, read by spokeswoman Pip Pointon, said: “The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority states that its code of practice ‘is to ensure that in the planning process there are no grounds for suggesting that a decision has been biased, partial or not well founded in any way’.
“Last month it was emphasised once again that the members of the planning committee should make decisions according to policy. But do you?
“At the meeting in February a planning officer made it very clear that a decision to approve the conversion of Dodds Hall Barn near Gayle would not be in accordance with policy.
“The committee accepted his recommendation to approve the conversion of the barn to provide visitor accommodation and a manager’s dwelling for a human-horse healing business.
“This included a stable block and a large two-storey extension with a balcony. How does that compare with the tight restrictions which have been placed on other barn conversions or the reasons given sometimes to refuse an application?
“How then can you say to a local young couple seeking to convert a barn into a family home that you consistently adhere to policy? It looks instead as if you are cherry picking.”
The planning committee’s new chair, Julie Martin, said the authority would issue a full response to the association’s questions.
At the meeting, YDNPA also faced accusations it had used “a highly undemocratic protocol” to block a barn conversion for a young family.
Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council has questioned why Labour councillor Margaret Pattison had voted at last month’s park authority planning committee, despite no longer being a Lancaster City councillor, which she had represented on the park authority.
ARC also spoke about the last meeting.
The association spokeswoman said: “For many years it was accepted by the planning committee that decisions should be deferred until newly elected district and county councillors could be there to represent their constituents.
“At the June meeting a request to defer a decision until the new Richmondshire District Council members were in attendance was refused.
“And yet Margaret Pattison was allowed to attend and vote even though she was no longer a Lancaster City councillor. How can this be seen to be acting with integrity and fairness?”
But member champion for development management Jim Munday dismissed the criticism and repeated a call for people attending the parish council meeting next week to hold the parish council’s chairman, Councillor John Blackie to account.
He said the authority had given approval for 122 barn conversions for residential use since planning policy was made more flexible in October 2015, with just ten applications being turned down.
He added: “The authority is approving barn conversions which conserve the intrinsic value of the building and support communities and the local economy.
“But we cannot have a policy that says ‘anybody who is young or has a family can build a house wherever they like’.”