North Yorkshire Council facing pressure to fund national parks’ priorities

Pressure is mounting on North Yorkshire Council to increase funding to boost national parks, such as by establishing a public transport network and maintaining rights of way, following Government move to force local authorities to further protected landscapes’ aims in decisions.

Full meetings of both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national park authorities this week heard calls for the authority, which is facing annual deficits of above £30m, to start making contributions to resolving issues in the park that it has statutory responsibilities for.

Both meetings heard the Government had indicated its intention to amend legislation to require other public bodies to give greater weight to the statutory purposes for which national parks were designated whenever they are operating within them, or making policy decisions that would affect them.

Authority members were told the changes would see public bodies and others with statutory powers such as utility firms facing strengthened requirements in relation to the national park’s management plans and achieving their objectives.

The meetings also heard the Government also intends to set a series of targets, such as for greenhouse gas emissions, for national parks, and all relevant local partners will be expected to contribute to their achievement.

The North York Moors meeting heard the authority had already started negotiations with the council over providing funding for “delivery of the statutory rights of way obligations”.

The meeting was told before austerity, the park authority received a nominal contribution from North Yorkshire County Council for the delivery of their statutory services.

During a debate on the priorities of the Yorkshire Dales body, and its management plan, members heard the authority was expecting a freeze in the national park’s grant from Government for the next three years.

Members were told while North Yorkshire and Westmorland and Furness councils had both the statutory responsibilities and resources for delivering public transport in the national park, the park authority had been given neither.

The authority’s natural environment champion, Mark Corner, highlighted how members had agreed in March to consider the case for press councils to help deliver a sustainable transport framework for the national park.

Mr Corner highlighted how a study of greenhouse gas emissions in the park had revealed the number of visitors arriving by car made a significant contribution to the total.

He said there was a case for giving a higher priority to sustainable transport to make the most of “a more receptive local authority decision”.

Mr Corner said: “If we have no resource allocated to it we might not make much progress.”

Skipton councillor David Noland told the meeting he was astonished public transport was not already a high priority for the authority.

He said: “It links tourism, it links active travel, rights of way and it links to the carbon argument.”

Mr Noland said traffic in the Yorkshire Dales at weekends had become “ridiculous” and that cyclists who knew congestion hotspots took ten-mile diversions to avoid them.

He added while he appreciated if the authority increased its focus on public transport provision another of its priorities would suffer, but public transport was “key to everything in the Yorkshire Dales”.

The authority’s chief executive, David Butterworth told members: “If something gets into a management plan, whether its on transport, housing or nature or climate, then the obligation to deliver against those is going to be far stronger in the future than it has been in the past. I think there is a real potential sea change.

“My slight worry is that some of the organisations that might have primary responsibility for delivery might get involved in a race to the bottom and they might not be as ambitious as we want them to be in delivering some of those particular targets. ”