New barn conversion plans prompt call for more help for Dales farmers

Plans have been submitted to convert the Swaledale barn into a bunk barn. Photo: Google.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has been urged to redouble its efforts to help upland farmers adjust to the post-Brexit economy amid concerns plans to diversify and create tourist accommodation could be undermined by conservation being prioritised.

Community leaders said controversy over the future of traditional stone barns in Yorkshire Dales National Park could return as landowners left facing uncertainty while the government’s new-look agri-environment system is developed look to convert the historic buildings to secure an income stream.

The stone field structures, many of which date to the 19th century or earlier, have been the focus of an extended battle between groups wanting to preserve the national park’s landscapes and heritage from intensive uses and those wanting to ensure the area’s residents have an income and places to live.

Recently lodged planning applications in the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns and Walls Conservation Area alone include a proposal to convert a stone outbuilding into a one-bedroom holiday cottage near the former lead mining hamlet of Whaw in Arkengarthdale and another to transform a traditional Dales stone barn near Muker into a bunkhouse.

Documents for the Swaledale scheme state fourth generation farmers Adam and Leanne Hunter run an efficient farming enterprise with 700 breeding ewes and 30 beef cows and calves, but are facing an uncertain economic climate, “exacerbated by leaving the EU and uncertainty regarding the future of basic payments and stewardship agreements that currently support the farming industry”.

The application states: “As a result, more so now than ever, many farmers are looking at how they can diversify their farming operations to ensure that their farms continue to operate viably in the long term.”

The application, which closely follows other proposals in the area to extend glamping sites, states the scheme will provide visitors to the area with accommodation that is “a step up from camping, and more affordable than a holiday cottage, allowing them the opportunity to explore the local and wider area, in turn contributing to towards the local economy”.

The proposals come two weeks after the park authority’s chairman, Neil Heseltine, underlined his determination to get to grips with environmental challenges facing the park while developing income streams for farmers and finding the right balance between improving landscapes and attracting more visitors.

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale councillor Jill McMullon said farmers in the area were looking at every possible way to secure the future of their enterprises post-Brexit and creating tourist accommodation appeared to be “very much part of that future, with quite a lot of these type of plans popping up”.

“There’s a lot of people saying that the national park authority is not coming up to the mark and they need to pull their fingers out, change their ways of thinking and start supporting people wanting to diversify.

“People’s expectations are different to what they were 20 years ago. People don’t just want a camping holiday in a tent in a field, they want something different to that, and if that’s what farmers have to do to survive then it needs supporting.”