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11/05/2018

We must do more to attract young families to the northern uplands

Yorkshire Dales

The flight of families from some of England's most attractive ladnscapes must be reversed if these areas are to host thirving communities, says Peter Stockton

It is sometimes forgotten by an urbanised society that there are still large parts of the countryside that need more people living in them and which still have capacity to accommodate growth without having to build new infrastructure.

The northern uplands cover 8 per cent of England by area and are characterised by some of our best landscapes in the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, North York Moors and Northumberland.  

Despite the protected status of the four national parks, their populations grew in the first 50 years after designation. Working-age households moved in to replace the young that left for work elsewhere.

But around 2005, however, that trend went into reverse. The slowdown has been so abrupt that today there are extensive areas of the north that have fewer people living in them than at the Census in 1951. The population projections are also now rather bleak.

"It is clear that many people feel that the rural north is absent from government agendas"

In the Yorkshire Dales, the age structure in many communities is becoming grossly unbalanced. The risk is that these communities will become unable to sustain themselves. Public spending cuts have led to volunteers (mainly the retired) running local services such as the bus or Post Office while fighting rearguard actions to keep schools open and maintain access to hospital services.

Ultimately if there are not enough people to manage the land, then the special qualities that the nation is trying to conserve for future generations will be eroded.

A recent House of Lords select committee report suggested that there was no longer any effective rural advocacy in government. Defra had been cut too far and was consumed by the single issue of post-Brexit farming, while the Rural Communities Commission and the regional assemblies had been scrapped. It is clear that many people feel that the rural north is absent from government agendas.

The Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North are focused almost exclusively on improving links between northern cities so that they can compete more effectively with the capital.

There needs to be recognition that the upland north is an underused asset that has capacity and a need for growth. It can accommodate more people immediately without having to build schools or roads.

But support is needed to get more development sites into public or community ownership to ensure their delivery. Taxation carrots and sticks should be explored to make better use of assets such as underused housing stock. Partnerships should be supported to market the area’s special qualities to encourage younger families to consider moving in.

Peter Stockton MRTPI is head of sustainable development at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Photo | iStock

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