‘Flocks of visitors’ help boost national park authority coffers

The body responsible for conserving the landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales and helping its farming and tourism-dependent communities to thrive has revealed continuing high numbers of visitors since lockdown restrictions were lifted means it is not facing a financial shortfall.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has however warned that given the rapidly changing situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic over the past six months, there remains “a considerable risk” that its financial position could be hit.

The announcement will come as a relief for the park’s residents and businesses that benefit from the authority’s services following it taking emergency action in May to cut back planned spending on some of its key priorities.

At the time the authority highlighted how councils across England were receiving £3.2bn to help them to deal with the immediate impacts of coronavirus, but the Department for Food and Rural Affairs had advised national park authorities not to expect a handout, to cut planned programmes and use their reserves.

A report to a meeting of the authority’s finance committee next week states since May the financial outlook had improved after the authority took a decision to reopen car parks and visitor centres considerably earlier than had been projected.

Before and after restrictions were eased concerns were expressed over strident messages to ward off visitors by some members of Dales communities, while concerns have also been raised over crowds of visitors failing to social distance in parts of the park.

However, the report states “the number of visitors that have flocked to the national park” has had an “extremely positive effect” on its finances.

It states assumptions about reductions in planning fees due to lockdown proved to be over-pessimistic and bank interest income did not fall as had been expected, leading to a forecast of £350,000 of extra income for the year.

The report states: “Although the current projection is considerably more positive than had been allowed for in the revised budget, it does assume that the second half of 2020/21 will be unaffected by Covid-19, both in terms of income, especially from visitors and planning applications, and expenditure on programmes.

“Given how rapidly the situation has changed over the past six months, there remains a considerable risk that our financial performance going forward won’t be as projected; however, at this stage, because of the continuing high numbers of visitors, there is no emerging risk of a financial shortfall.”

The report states the authority’s planned spending was about £250,000 less than had been allowed for in its budget to August 31. It states as its external partners, such as contractors, are following their own Covid-19 safety rules, it is more difficult to estimate when projects will be completed.