A war of words has erupted between two prominent community leaders in the Yorkshire Dales over the national park authority’s refusal of three proposed barn conversions.
In a strongly worded email to Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) members and officers, Upper Dales county councillor John Blackie said the recent decisions had caused “great distress, open resentment, and outright anger amongst the local communities”.
The councillor also hit out at his fellow park authority members who voted against the applications, but did not explain their reasoning in public.
But park authority chairman Carl Lis has branded Cllr Blackie s comments as “strange” and has pointed out that the county councillor, who is also a member of YDNPA, voted in favour of the policy on barn conversions which he was now criticising.
The row has broken out after the park authority planning committee’s chairman, Caroline Thornton-Berry, was last month forced to break members’ deadlock over three barn conversion schemes, at Grinton, Hawes and Appersett, and reject them all with her casting vote.
Officers had warned the barn schemes failed to meet policies designed to meet the authority’s main purpose of conserving the national park and the proposals threatened the architecturally and historically important features of the park.
Bur Cllr Blackie described the decision as “hostile to the well-being of the local communities here in the Upper Dales the YDNPA has a duty to promote”.
He added that they way they were reached was “totally unacceptable” with the eight councillors who voted against the schemes not speaking about their decision at the planning meeting.
“This is not the transparent decision-making the YDNPA is committed to its statement of corporate values and principles. This is not how an open, accessible, honest authority is held to account.
“It has outraged the local communities in the Upper Dales, and Grinton Parish Council has already written to the YDNPA expressing its dismay at the decision at Shoemaker Barn and I have no doubt that Hawes & High Abbotside Parish Council will have something similar to say.”
Cllr Blackie also blasted campaign group the Yorkshire Dales Society, which welcomed the refusal of the three applications in its winter review, and accused the organisation of “fanning the flames of the divisiveness between the YDNPA and the local communities”.
In response to the councillor’s email, Cllr Lis said: “I find it rather strange that John Blackie has yet again slammed an authority which he has sat on, and helped shape, for 21 years.
“Like all members of the authority, Mr Blackie voted in favour of the barn conversion policy which he now criticises.
“The policy is a lot more flexible than the one it replaced; more than 100 applications have been approved under it, with only 8 refusals.”
However the park authority chief said the policy “doesn’t, and cannot, allow a free-for-all across the unique farmed landscape of the Dales”.
“Whilst many barns are in suitable locations for conversion near to roads, we can’t alter the fact that many simply aren’t – being set in fields in open countryside.
“Mr Blackie represents the views of only some people on barn conversions.
“Plenty of local people – young and old – quietly welcomed the decisions.
“And the idea that our planners are overly influenced by the Friends of the Dales is nonsense; they are professionals who take everyone’s view into account.
“As the Yorkshire Post said last year in an editorial on barn conversions (‘Dales homes crisis’, 20 Feb), what Dales communities need is a large scale programme of affordable house building
“Yet Mr Blackie ignores the fact that there are already planning permissions or land allocations for 400 new homes in the National Park.
“We just need the developers to get building them – and we are working with our partners in the district councils to try to make that happen.
“It is an irony not lost on me that we have landowners trying to get permission to convert wholly unsuitable barns whilst not releasing land that has been specifically allocated for new housing development.”