A proposal to create an easy-to-use route for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders of all abilities in a national park has been pushed forward despite concerns it could undermine a long-held ambition to reinstate a railway linking the East Coast Mainline and the Settle to Carlisle lines.
A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority saw the majority of members agree the tourism and leisure scheme should be progressed after being told reinstatement of the railway line between Redmire in Wensleydale and Garsdale in the north-west of the park was unlikely.
The meeting heard while the Settle to Carlisle Railway ran through the heart of the national park and presented opportunities for green tourism, it would need a significant shift in political will at Westminster for the railway scheme to become reality.
Members heard there had been “an extraordinary response” from the public to a survey by the authority asking whether the multi-user route should be developed, which had indicated strong support for the plan.
However, Upper Wensleydale transport campaigner Ruth Annison told the meeting the survey had appeared “set out to prove a point” rather than take a balanced view of the level of community support for the multi-user route.
The meeting also heard concerns the multi-user project was also unrealistic as there had been a lack of consultation with landowners, some of whom have been reluctant to even allow basic surveys of their land.
Railway enthusiasts appealed to the authority to preserve the former railway line, saying despite having two proposals to reinstate the line rejected by the government they had received recent encouragement from the government to continue with the ambition.
Some members urged the authority to develop proposals for the multi-user route that would not prevent the railway’s reinstatement.
The meeting heard while large parts of the multi-user route could be made to be adaptable, it would be too costly to engineer the multi-user route to a level to support diesel or steam trains.
Andrew Longworth, chair of the Upper Wensleydale Railway Association, called on members to consider the “far wider transport opportunities, for young and old alike of all abilities, that the railway would present”.
He said: “The railway has no option but to follow its original alignment in its entirety.”
David Butterworth, the authority’s chief executive, told members the choice they faced was between looking to work with partners to develop the multi-user route or “do nothing other than try to protect the route in the hope at some future date the political will and finance might be available to reinstate the railway”.
He said the authority may have been seen by some people to have dragged its feet over developing the rail route earlier, but he emphasised it had “acted with genuine intentions” to support the reinstatement of the line, which was now “extremely unlikely”.
He said: “Decades have passed now since trains have run over this line, over 60 years, which means that the benefits which might accrue to the area of finding another use are now worth exploring.
“The authority should be dealing with reality, rather than hope over expectation.
Speaking after the meeting he said the response to the survey had been “extraordinary”.
“The survey simply sought the public’s views on a multi user route. Most people who responded understood that.
“Some respondees however, clearly thought the national park authority had a choice between installing or reinstating the former railway line or working towards the development of a multi-use route.
“The former is simply not an option the authority have. We can either look to work with partners and others to develop a multi-use route or we can do nothing other than try to protect the route in the hope that at some future date the political will and the finance might be available to reinstate the railway.
“Members discussed that point at considerable length during the March meeting and there was a prevailing view, and I would agree with it, that the authority should now be looking at delivering one of its other objectives, rather than simply protecting the trackbed.
“Decades have now passed since trains ran over this line – over 60 years – which means that the benefits that might accrue to the area from finding another use are now worth exploring.”