A deep division has opened up between those charged with deciding the future shape of a national park amid a row over how best to conserve its landscapes.
Tension ran high at the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s planning committee as a group of members dedicated to providing more housing for families ignored legal warnings in a bid to see several stone barn conversion schemes approved.
A packed meeting at the authority’s base in Bainbridge saw the committee’s chairman, Caroline Thornton-Berry, forced to break members’ deadlock over three schemes, at Grinton, Hawes and Appersett, and reject them all with her casting vote.
Officers had warned the barn schemes failed to meet policies designed to meet the authority’s main purpose of conserving the national park and the proposals threatened the architecturally and historically important features of the park.
None of the eight members who voted to refuse the schemes explained their decision, but officers stated unless they were confident of having defensible reasons for going against the authority’s policy by approving the schemes, they were in danger of making unlawful decisions.
The meeting was told that approving the schemes could lead to judicial reviews at the High Court, which if quashed could land the authority with “a heavy financial penalty”.
A series of tense exchanges between members pressing for the schemes to be passed and officers, who had recommended all three be rejected, over issues such as the distance between a barn and the road or from the nearest settlement.
After members were presented with the views of the authority’s barrister about the legality of approving the schemes, Upper Dales councillor and planning committee member John Blackie said he did not believe passing them would “open the floodgates” for inappropriate developments.
He said communities such as the one in Arkengarthdale were suffering from a lack of affordable and suitable homes for families and members needed to show solidarity for residents wanting to continue living in the area.
Fellow member and leader of Richmondshire District Council Yvonne Peacock urged the committee to reject the legal advice and have the matter decided by the Secretary of State.
She said: “We cannot expect to sustain our communities and to look after our landscape if we don’t have people wanting to live and work in the Dales.
“Let us send the decision and say we believe in attracting families for our schools and communities. This is what we are here for.”
After the meeting, Mrs Peacock said she could not recall the park authority having been so deeply divided for two decades.
Speaking after the meeting, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chairman and planning committee member, Carl Lis, said: “I need to stress that we are permitting lots of barn conversions – 99 of them since 2015, against eight refusals – but they do need to be in the right locations.
“Approvals for the three applications would have led to landscape harm, in part because such developments would bring with them new tracks, car parking, lighting, overhead lines and the other facilities necessary for residential use.”