National park authority chair hits back over criticism

YDNPA chairman Carl Lis.

The leader of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has hit back after some of its members were accused of a “disgraceful” attack on a community champion as he lay dying in hospital as a row over barn conversions intensified.

Just three days before a memorial service for controversial councillor John Blackie, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chairman Carl Lis paid tribute to the Upper Dales member as “a massive advocate for his local community” and held a minute’s silence at a meeting of the authority.

However, Councillor Jill McMullon, Mr Blackie’s partner and successor as chair of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council, said a number of people attending the authority’s planning meeting in July thought comments made about Mr Blackie as he was fighting for his life had been “disparaging”.

Cllr McMullon said: “Some members questioned John’s integrity, but to do so while knowing he was very ill, when he was not there to defend himself, and was in fact dying in hospital, was nothing short of disgraceful.”

One of the authority’s members had said Mr Blackie should be “held to account” by the parish council for his comments about the authority producing an image for planning committee members that did not show developments near a stone barn.

Cllr McMullon said no parish council in the Upper Dales would ever have held Mr Blackie to account as they were aware he was fighting for the communities and that the park authority needed to be held to account for the comments about Mr Blackie.

Mr Lis said he had worked with Mr Blackie for 23 years and they had both accepted there would be “fairly robust discussion at times”. He added: “He could take as good as he gave. I think we would be best off with his legacy now by moving forward.”

The comments about Mr Blackie had related to his vociferous support to enable local people to live in one of the national park’s key heritage features – traditional stone barns.

Mr Lis also sought to dismiss concerns raised by the Association of Rural Councils (Arc) that a conflict of interest could have arisen following the election of Julie Martin – a supporter of the Friends of the Dales conservation campaign group which has opposed some barn conversions – as the authority’s planning committee chairman.

Environmental consultant Mrs Martin is a Government appointed member of the authority as opposed to one of its elected members.

A meeting of the authority saw Mr Lis question the level of support for Arc. He said Mrs Martin’s involvement with the Friends of the Dales was a matter of “long-standing public record”.

Mr Lis said a number of the authority’s members campaigned on particular issues and it “just can’t be right” that they should not sit on the planning committee.

He added: “I suggest the issue here is simply that you don’t like the Friends of the Dales.”

Mr Lis said he wanted to find a “more helpful and constructive way of working” with Arc.”

He said he wanted the group to answer whether it had a constitution, elected officials, and how many members it has and its members’ interests.

After the meeting, a spokeswoman for Arc declined to detail its membership number, but said it had not made allegations against Julie Martin, but had questioned the authority on an issue of conflict of interest.

She said: “One of Arc’s founding members was the late Stephen Butcher.

“When he became a Craven District councillor and represented that council on the park authority he stepped down as a member of Arc so that there could be no question of possibility of conflict of interest.

“We have chosen to be independent to provide a local democracy service to monitor the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority – something which many in the national park appreciate and support.”