Park authority delays decision on plea for extra cash for Dalesbus service

The Dalesbus at Usha Gap in Swaledale.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has postponed a decision on a charity’s plea for help propping up bus services, despite being warned ignoring the appeal could harm their integrity.

A park authority meeting heard uncertainty was surrounding the future of Dalesbus services linking the national park to towns and cities from as far north as Darlington and Middlesbrough to Leeds and Bradford in the south.

Bruce McLeod, chairman of the Friends of the Dales, a subsidiary of which runs the volunteer-led bus service, told the committee the Tripadvisor ‘most popular’ accolade presented the authority with an opportunity to address the pressing issues of climate change and increasing numbers of cars visiting the Dales.

He said: “In light of this and the seriousness with the authority is tackling carbon emissions as well as access to all the park, I urge the authority to increase funding to Dalesbus, so existing services can be properly maintained. Dalesbus is a vital resource and a shining example of a way of a toward a greener future for the Dales.”

Mr McLeod highlighted how the Dean of Ripon, the Very Reverend John Dobson had recently stated “Decent public transport should be seen as a necessity, not a luxury”.

However, the authority’s chief executive David Butterworth warned while the authority’s financial situation for the coming year was “good”, the outlook after that was “not so good”.

He said the Government’s agenda included issues such as climate change actions and improving access, but added “these things cost money”.

Mr Butterworth said: “We think, though it is by no means a common view from all national park authorities, that public finances will begin to dominate discussion as the country moves out of Covid.”

He said the authority was trying to find a balance between preparing for “Doomsday scenarios” and setting out an ambitious conservation and recreation programme.

The meeting heard the charity had urged the authority to increase its Dalesbus funding from from £5,000 to £30,000 a year, to help it increase the 30,000 passenger journeys in 2019-20 to 50,000 by 2023.

The committee was urged to ensure access to the Dales for visitors from all parts of society, particularly those without access to a car. According to the most recent survey in 2018, 37 per cent of passengers could not have visited the Dales without the bus services.

The meeting heard the proposal had left the authority facing a dilemma over cutting back on its other spending plans if it increased its funding for the public transport and questions over whether it was the authority’s responsibility to help fund bus services.

Member Kevin Frea told the meeting large areas of the park remained inaccessible to those without cars and the authority had stated cutting emissions was among its top priorities.

Proposing increasing funding to the bus service by using five per cent of its annual income from car parks, Mr Frea warned if the charity’ appeal was ignored it would be “really hard to maintain our integrity”.

However, members were told the authority was funding research to examine demand for bus services in the park and the authorities priorities would be reviewed later this year.

After hearing the changing the authority’s spending plans could present “difficult challenges”, the authority’s chairman Neil Heseltine said while he sympathised with the increasing the bus service funding, it was not the right time for such a decision.