A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over a flagship affordable housing scheme in a national park, as the body managing the protected area dismissed claims it had put financial considerations above the needs of its communities.
Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Carl Lis issued assurances that creating affordable housing remained a key ambition of the body after facing questions over a the future of a scheme to build five affordable homes in Bainbridge, Wensleydale.
After the development was approved for a second time in November, leading councillors hailed it as a milestone in their drive to arrest population decline in the national park.
While the provision of affordable housing is viewed as among the most pressing issues facing the national park, a meeting of the authority heard no progress had been made on such a development behind the village’s Rose and Crown pub, despite members twice approving it.
Life-long Bainbridge resident Rita Cloughton told members she had been dismayed by the inability of local young people to buy properties in the area due to house prices and had been delighted when an ‘exception site’ was created in Bainbridge to bypass normal planning rules to enable five houses to be built and sold at a discounted rate.
She said the authority had a duty to stand by the decisions of its planning committee and that she had become “very concerned about why the national park officers decided to go against the planning committee and put the site to a housing association for shared ownership and also contacted the applicants and suggested shared ownership”.
Mrs Cloughton highlighted the suggestions that the site should be used for shared ownership housing had followed “the threat of a judicial review” by an objector, who had queried if the development could be described as affordable housing.
She said: “My concern is that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is not fulfilling its duty to the residents and instead is putting money first. I expect the authority to fulfil the democratic job they were given.”
Mr Lis told the meeting the “suggestion that officers are somehow working to thwart the decisions of this authority” was not true. He said: “The authority wants to see affordable housing getting built on this site and many others across the national park.
“We want exactly the sort of genuinely affordable housing that would allow local young people to live here permanently.”
He said both applications to create discount for sale properties on the site had been supported by officers, who based their decisions on advice from Richmondshire District Council that discount for sale housing met the Government definition for affordable housing.
Mr Lis said the authority had been advised of a legal challenge if it proceeded to grant the planning permission.
He said: “As a publicly-funded body we have no choice but to take that threat seriously. The developer is now considering his options and we are awaiting confirmation about what he now wants to do.”
“If he wishes to amend the application it would need to come back to the planning committee.”