A body responsible for shaping the future of a national park and its communities is facing a battle between its members over proposals to reduce the number of elected people running it.
Next week’s meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority looks set to see its 25 members split over whether their number should be cut to 16, meaning just there would be just one elected member for each county and district council covered by the park, four parish council representatives alongside four government appointed members
The change would mean six North Yorkshire members representing 2,689 residents each, four Cumbria members representing 1,769 residents each and two Lancashire members representing just 139 residents each.
The park authority had faced pressure to overhaul its governance following the Government-commissioned Landscapes Review, which recommended boards of nine to 12 members, none of whom would be appointed locally.
The authority says the changes would mean it would retain strong local input and enable the authority to be run in a more efficient and cost-effective way for taxpayers.
Describing the proposed changes as “progressive”, the authority’s chairman Carl Lis said the removal of all local representation on the main board would be a retrograde step, but the authority’s board had become too large and unbalanced following the extension of the national park boundary in 2016.
He said: “Now is the chance to put that right – and demonstrate to Government that we are serious about more effective local governance, before we have something imposed on us.”
Mr Lis added: “By having more efficient decision-making at the top from people who care passionately for this special place, we can build on the work already underway to address the climate and nature emergency in a way that continues to respond to the needs of our local communities.”
While other members have previously questioned how democratically accountable its council members are as they are selected by council leaders, a core of its members are furious about the proposals.
They claim it will mean some residents will not have someone fighting their corner on key issues such as planning.
Robert Heseltine, who has been a member of the national park body and its predecessor since 1977, said the changes would lead to the “virtual destruction of local democracy” at a time when voices speaking up for rural areas were needed most.
He said it was “insulting” to suggest fewer members would mean a greater level of passion for the national park and questioned the motives of “those who are pushing this proposal” at a time when decision-making meetings were being held virtually rather than in person.
Mr Heseltine said: “It has to be recognised to all involved that there is a price to local democracy and you need to be able to see the whites in people’s eyes when making such crucial decisions.”