A Government plan which could see the board of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority reduced from 25 to as few as nine – with all members appointed by the Secretary of State – has been met with fierce opposition.
The authority’s chairman Carl Lis has branded the idea a ‘disaster’.
He is backing a YDNPA report which says the number of members should be reduced to 16 but with local representation maintained.
But Dales community leaders say even this goes too far and the number of members should stay at 25.
Cllr Lis this week released a statement backing the YDNPA’s audit and review committee, which has decided to oppose governance changes proposed in the Government-commissioned Landscapes Review.
The park authority said the committee has accepted and supported the need for an overall cut in the size of the board.
However, it is recommending that the level of local representation be maintained.
The committee’s recommendations will be considered at the next full authority meeting on 31 March.
Mr Lis said: “The Landscapes Review concluded that the constitution and operation of national park authority boards was poor; they were too large, lacked diversity and lacked people who emphasised the purpose of conserving nature and connecting people with National Parks.
“The Landscapes Review has proposed that national park boards are made smaller (9-12) and are made up entirely of members appointed directly by Government – removing all local representation. I think that would be a disaster.
“Before the Government commissioned the Landscapes Review, we were already examining the issue because we recognised that the board was too large and the current arrangements were unfair and unbalanced following the extension of the national park boundary in 2016.”
“The authority’s Audit and Review Committee has recommended a cut in the size of the board from 25 to 16 members.
“However, it is also recommending that the level of local representation is maintained, and even strengthened, with greater sway given to members appointed from local parish councils.
“12 of the 16 members will be appointed to represent the 23,000 people who live in the park. These will come from the county, district and parish councils. I back that approach.
“It’s vital now that we can demonstrate very clearly to Government that there is a way to retain strong local input but still run a national park authority in a more efficient and cost-effective way for taxpayers.”
However, the authority’s recommendation to reduce the number of members to 16 is being opposed by some community leaders.
Several Wensleydale parish councillors, the leader of North Yorkshire County Council and the Association of Rural Communities are supporting Richmondshire District councillor Yvonne Peacock who will put a forward a motion to Richmondshire District Council’s meeting on February 25 opposing the cut.
In December the YDNPA CEO, David Butterworth, told the Audit and Review committee that Julian Glover’s Review of Designated Areas had recommended that national parks should be governed by much smaller boards.
He said that a working group set up by the YDNPA had proposed the reduction to 16 members, eight appointed by local authorities, four by parish councils and four appointed by the Secretary of State.
He explained that as each local authority covered by the National Park has a right to appoint a member to the YDNPA this has included Lancashire County Council and Lancashire City Council since the park was extended in 2016. This means that the two members from Lancashire represent 139 residents each and that will not change.
North Yorkshire County Council’s representation on the YDNPA will be reduced from five to one. Richmondshire District Council’s will be halved to one, and Craven District Council’s from three down to one.
Cllr Peacock spoke at the Wensleydale and Coverdale parish forum held at West Burton on Monday.
At the parish forum meeting Cllr Peacock said: “I think that this is totally wrong because it means that our representation is getting very, very low. We are absolutely appalled at losing our representation.”
And the chairman of Burton cum Walden parish council, Jane Ritchie, said that she and others, including Alistair Dinsdale, chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, had attended the inquiry hearings when the extension of the Yorkshire Dales National Park was being proposed because they were so concerned about local democracy and representation.
“I don’t care how big the park is, but I do care about the issue of local representation,” she added.
Those from Askrigg, Aysgarth and District, Bainbridge and Burton cum Walden parish councils and Caldbergh and East Scrafton Parish Meeting who attended the forum agreed to support Cllr Peacock.
She told them that she was presenting the following motion to the next full meeting of Richmondshire District Council: “That the council request the government and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to keep the membership board at 25 members to maintain democracy. But if minded to reduce membership then reduce by a small amount, not the drastic reduction of nine from 25 to 16.”
She will have the support of Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden who is also a member of the YDNPA.
He said he was one of the few on its Audit and Review committee to vote against the recommendation to reduce membership to 16 because of the impact upon local representation and democracy.
“It’s a hell of an area that the National Park covers now. It’s not just the population we are looking after – we have a responsibility for this area of outstanding natural beauty,” he said.
Mr Dinsdale, who farms at Carperby, said this week: “From the outset of the Association of Rural Communities we have campaigned for democratic representation for those who live and work in the National Park and who have been responsible for its existence and preservation before it was designated as a National Park.
“So it is vital that we have full and proportional democratic representation in the strategic planning of our National Park which this proposal does not address.”
The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Carl Les, commented: “I am concerned about this proposal, and I’m discussing this with my county councillors who sit on the Park to decide on a course of action before the Park Authority meets.
“I agree with seeking efficiencies but this must be balanced with local representation, especially from the organisation that delivers a large number of high quality and high value services such as highways, social care and education in the Park geography of North Yorkshire.”