A local authority with about 40 per cent of its land in national parks has described Whitehall proposals to dramatically cut the number of its elected representatives making key decisions in the protected landscapes as “unacceptable” and “an abuse of process”.
North Yorkshire County Council has written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about a proposal from the department to use a statutory local government reorganisation instrument to reduce the number of councillors on the boards of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national parks.
The council is arguing proportional local representation on the park authorities is essential as they have “very significant control over the economy, housing and services”, not least because of their role as planning authorities.
However, while 69 per cent of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s residents live in North Yorkshire, 30 per cent in Westmorland and just one per cent in Lancashire, the Whitehall proposal would result in the three authorities each having a equal say on the park authority.
The latest proposals would also see the 90 per cent of the North York Moors population who live in North Yorkshire represented by 60 per cent of the local authority members on the park authority and the ten per cent of residents in the Redcar and Cleveland area represented by 40 per cent of the authority’s elected members.
The proposed changes come two years after members of both park authorities criticised recommendations in the Glover Review of national parks to sharply cut the number of democratically-elected members, saying they would be a blow for democracy and residents.
In the letter to the minister, Coun Les stated the proposals would result in North Yorkshire residents not being consulted over a change which would see them “very significantly under-represented compared to the residents of other councils”.
He wrote as the statutory instrument could only be used on councils undergoing reorganisation, the representation of authorities such as Lancaster and Redcar and Cleveland would remain unchanged.
Coun Les stated: “Using a statutory instrument about local government reorganisation to force through a change that is opposed by the relevant council is highly unusual, is not the practice employed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and represents an abuse of the normal recognised process.”
Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock, a former leader of Richmondshire District Council and member of the Yorkshire Dales park authority, said the proposals were “absolutely atrocious”.
However, it is understood some national park figures are keen to avoid upsetting Whitehall decision-makers as they wish to be viewed as good vehicles for delivering projects such as farming in protected landscapes.
Chairman of the North York Moors park authority Jim Bailey said a crucial part of its work was being representative of local electorates, as well as parish councils and the national interest, but said the number of elected representatives on the park authorities would be a matter for debate.
He said: “In the spirit of streamlining local government and Julian Glover’s recommendations on national parks some reduction would seem appropriate. I’m sure we can find an appropriate agreement instead of falling out and fighting tooth and nail about it.”