The Commission met twenty times, taking evidence from over seventy participants.

Commissioners met twice with their reference group, once with MPs, and twice with Defra officials. Three visits were made to rural communities; 27 written submissions were considered.

Key facts about North Yorkshire

The county is the largest in England, stretching from Scarborough on the North Sea coast to Bentham in the west and from the edge of Teesside to south of the M62, containing two National Parks.

Eighty five per cent of the county’s sweeping, spectacular landscapes are classed as very rural or super-sparse and the population density is five times below the national average, with just 76 people per square mile compared to 430, which is the English average.

20 per cent of North Yorkshire’s rural areas have no broadband connection compared to 7 per cent in urban areas. The average national download speed is 45 mega-bits-per-second compared with just 30 in North Yorkshire;

As much as 47 per cent of North Yorkshire is designated as either a National Park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

It is a gig economy. While employment is high, earnings are noticeably lower and the county’s workforce significantly less qualified than the national average

The population is ageing. In North Yorkshire 24 per cent of the people not working are retired compared to a national average of 13.6 per cent.

There is a large and growing elderly population in North Yorkshire, with 152,675 older people, aged 65 years or over. This is equivalent to one-in-four (25%) of the total population and it is expected to increase significantly in the next 20 years.

 No natural gas grid, most heating by oil, housing stock with sold brick or stone walls and poor levels of insulation, limited public transport, cars that need to cater for winter conditions and diesel used in agricultural machinery  means that the average Ryedale resident creates 9 TES CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere a year, almost double the national average;

North Yorkshire has the highest number of small schools in England.

Why a Rural Commission

Despite its national standing for transformative services and for being one of the most entrepreneurial councils in England, North Yorkshire County Council acknowledged that there are endemic challenges faced by this sparse, rural county.  

These challenges include isolation, poor digital connectivity, threatened farm businesses, poor public transport provision, tiny schools under threat of closure, and a lack of affordable houses, not to mention the challenges and opportunities of climate change and the UK’s departure from the EU.

We therefore established the Rural Commission, a panel of eight people eminent in their field or with a deep knowledge of North Yorkshire’s communities, who were tasked with helping to turn the tide on rural decline and recommend ways to help some of North Yorkshire’s most rural communities grow and prosper.

Their job was to examine these challenges in a new and innovative way and seek workable solutions.

They were tasked with:

  • Recommending the actions that local partners should take over the next 10, 20 and 30 years in order to maximise the sustainability of the most rural communities in North Yorkshire.
  • Improving the evidence base and arguments to enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support to maximise the sustainability of the most rural communities in North Yorkshire.

The panel was aided by a reference group of key stakeholders to include the leaders of the district councils in North Yorkshire, the 2 national park authorities in the county and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Our track record

The launch of the Commission follows a decade of significant innovation and change in the way North Yorkshire has delivered services and supported communities through an age of austerity.

The county has a strong tradition of volunteering. Last year over 850 volunteers gave over 30,000 hours to the council-managed library service; a national beacon of good practice. Agencies have harnessed the energy and know-how of volunteers to help enhance services to combat loneliness and isolation across age ranges, to deliver community transport, run pubs, village shops and support social care. We are renowned for high quality, innovative services and a can-do attitude. We have a broad range of commercially trading companies and functions that bring in £7million a year in additional revenue – this in turn is used to support service provision.

We are one of the most transformative and entrepreneurial councils in the country with highways and infrastructure services amongst the most effective in England. Our support for the Local Enterprise Partnership has helped to achieve a £122m growth deal for North Yorkshire and continuing this support is a clear priority for the future. High tech, high skill companies are beginning to move into the county’s rural areas, we along with agency and business partners continue to push forward with solutions to unlock further development.

The growth of Catterick in Richmondshire as one of Europe’s super garrisons brings further potential for economic growth and diversity of communities.

North Yorkshire has developed and continues to push forward with leading edge prevention services to help people live independent lives, through programmes such as Living Well and Stronger Communities.

Our trading standards operations lead the way nationally on doorstep and itinerant crime, protecting vulnerable residents across the county.

We are the first council in the country to be rated as outstanding across the board for children’s services. We are responsible for the welfare and education of more than 128,000 children and young people and the voice of young people has a key part to play in service improvement.

We work with planning authorities to emphasise the importance and need for affordable and suitable housing to attract families into rural areas. We have supported communities to establish land trusts to build affordable housing. The County has made its views very clear that if small schools are to survive, then communities must remain sustainable and planning authorities must take this into account.

Despite challenging budgets, we are working with many partners to maintain the life and economic viability of rural areas - investing in superfast broadband for hard-to-reach areas; aiming to put Extra Care housing for vulnerable and elderly people into every market town and investing additional sums in road maintenance to support local business.

North Yorkshire has become one of the cycling capitals of the world, and as such is developing as a global destination, supercharging its tourism, cultural and heritage industries.

It is a great place to live and work and the development of technologies in finding revolutionary and sustainable transport and connectivity solutions and the rise in jobs that can be done anywhere means North Yorkshire has huge potential.

We hope that in taking forward these recommendations and actions from the Rural Commission, we can, along with our partners and with national government, help to turn the tide on rural decline and help North Yorkshire’s most rural communities grow and prosper.

    Case studies

    Find out more about how rural communities across North Yorkshire are already coming together to make a difference.

    North Yorkshire has an ambition to be the first carbon negative region in England and this will require innovative and ambitious  solutions for rural transport. Commissioners examined best practice across Europe and believe a scheme in France, where a remote community has purchased a number of electric cars for the community to rent could be successfully replicated in very rural North Yorkshire.  However such a green solution depends on the availability of electric charging points.

    The Commission’s vision of a green economy, grounded on the production of clean energy supplies and a shared aspiration to be the first carbon-negative County in England, will be heavily reliant on the installation of a widespread fast charging infrastructure to stimulate demand for electric vehicles.

    “The lack of charge points where people need them is one of the biggest barriers to the electric vehicle revolution, a revolution that will help to reduce air pollution and control greenhouse gasses. Together we can change that”.

    The Commission believes that ‘Charge my Street’, a community benefit society, which installs and operates community charge points should play a key role across North Yorkshire.

    The scheme, which raises money through community shares, installs charging points nationally across the UK, including rural locations. Charge my Street aims for every home in the UK to be within a five-minute walk of a charging point, which provides residents without off-street parking with the opportunity to switch to an electric vehicle.

    “Many companies currently prefer to install their charge points only in dense urban areas with the highest rates of commercial return. This leaves significant gaps in the overall network, particularly across rural areas, which are often perceived to be less commercially attractive.”

    The scheme is backed by government and is being scaled up in areas across northern England. This is an excellent case The Commission believes it should also be carried out in locations across North Yorkshire as an excellent example of electric vehicle charging infrastructure that specialises in sparse areas.

    Change My Street logo

    In the early years of this century Malton was affected by the same decline as most market towns in England but has been revitalised with a careful strategy which has brought businesses and visitors back.

    The tactics were simple but effective - to make the most of the wealth of quality produce and expert businesses the area has to offer.

    In little more than a decade, it has gone from the first tentative steps of a food festival which attracted around 1,000 people to regular events which can draw in up to 40,000 and shops now packed with artisan food businesses where customers can chat to those producing the goods they buy.

    That helps ensure constant ‘footfall’ throughout the week and the seasons, allowing businesses from bakers and gelato producers to thrive alongside an interesting mix of restaurants.

    The transformation is down to a deliberate policy adopted by the Fitzwilliam Malton estate and the district council to seize the opportunity Yorkshire’s position as a quality food producer offered.

    Now they are looking to the future, with a Local Plan which runs until 2027 which aims to promote Malton and Norton as the area’s main focus for future growth in retail, employment and housing.

    Change started just over a decade ago when the first food festival was organised.

    Estate director Tom Naylor-Leyland said he was “intrigued” by the range of quality foodstuff produced in the area and had also been struck by traders at a fashionable London market calling out with pride details of the provenance of their Yorkshire stock.

    He saw that as a potential antidote to the problem of empty shops and customers moving increasing to out of town centres and online.

    “It was all about bringing footfall into the centre,” he said, “How do you bring it in?”

    “I was intrigued by how much natural produce came from the area. The simple concept was to promote Yorkshire food in Yorkshire, making Malton a food destination is something I was passionate about.

    “Understanding the process of how things are made creates a closer bond between the consumer and producer and my dream was to see a market town with producers in the centre.”

    The first step was a food market in 2009 with 25 stalls attracting 1,000 visitors, which was regarded as a success despite being dwarfed by more recent events which can bring in 40,000 over two days.

    Monthly markets now eclipse the success of those early events but the estate and the town’s Visit Malton community interest company are pushing further.

    The estate took over the Talbot Hotel and ran it for seven years, putting Malton born TV chef James Martin in charge of the kitchen and setting up a cookery school.

    “The most exciting part has been in the last five years; we actively went out, having built a reputation with the food fair, market and Talbot, to get producers to open a shop and make their products in the centre of town,” said Tom.

    The result has been 26 food related businesses opening in town, with the aim of expanding further.

    “I think we should be trying to be one of the leading food destinations in the UK,” he said, “It is so important for Malton to keep innovating.”

    The next step is a music festival, which will feature the Lightning Seeds and 1960s legend Arthur Brown and the Marathon du Malton, a 10k run with regular stops for participants to sample high quality food and drink.

    The picture below shows members of the Rural Commission with the Mayor of Malton, Paul Emberley (left) and local butcher Paul Potts (centre) during the Commission’s visit to Malton in August 2020. The visit included a guided walk-about around Malton’s thriving food economy.

    The Rural Commission with the Mayor of Malton, Paul Emberley

    “Completion of the 50 year vision will demonstrate how to deliver new housing, education and elderly care, free from the tax payer’s purse in rural locations.”

    The Commission has bold ambitions for North Yorkshire and proposes that the County should consider the sensitive enlargement of existing villages to house a new generation of rural dwellers. To achieve this, the Commission would urge the local planning authorities to work more closely with and utilise the good will of the County’s large estates.

    North Stainley Estate, situated in Harrogate district, is an excellent case in point. For the past 40 years, the estate’s owners have worked continuously and sensitively towards a 50-year place-making vision that should result in the village of North Stainley being recognised as one of the greenest and most sustainable rural communities in the UK - a community being built around a zero carbon future.

    The village has been transformed from a roadside hamlet to a growing and a popular community of circa 750 people.

    Proof of the positive impact that new housing and associated development can have is reflected in the attractive built environment, a plethora of green open spaces and countryside access, and a multitude of social clubs and societies. The Commission proposes that North Stainley is adopted as a template for partners to replicate in other places across the County.


    The Rural Commission was launched at Yorkshire’s first community owned pub - The George and Dragon pub at Hudswell in Richmondshire. In 2008 the pub ceased trading and was put up for sale, it remained closed for two years until it was bought by the Hudswell Community Pub Ltd.

    It underwent extensive renovations to modernise before re-opening in June 2010. The George and Dragon is at the centre of the local community, offering a little local shop, library, community allotments and free internet access.

    Watch as Sue Harper, Chair of the Hudswell Village Hall Committee, explains how the community comes together to help their village.

    Find out more about The George and Dragon pub.

    The Upper Dales Community Partnership began after members of the community rallied to support the management buy-out of the Wensleydale Creamery which was facing closure by its former owners Dairycrest. The Creamery has gone from strength to strength and become one of the nation’s success stories and a great example of how community enterprise can thrive. From a building off the Market Place in Hawes provided by us the Community Partnership operates a one-stop Community Office incorporating the town’s library, an internet café, the Police station, a Council enquiry and cash desk, and The Little White Bus community transport company which is the sole provider of local bus services throughout Wensleydale and Swaledale.

    In 2014 the Hawes Post Office and Sorting Office was under threat of closure, and was successfully incorporated into the Community Office as well. The Partnership also operates a community land trust to build affordable houses to rent to stem the outflow of local young families who cannot afford to buy a house locally. It has taken over the petrol station in Hawes and boasts fuel prices cheaper than Tesco’s. It will soon become an outpost of the Newcastle Building Society in a partnership spawned after the last bank in town pulled out.

    The Partnership now has 19 employees and a team of 45 volunteers, who mainly drive the 10 Little White Buses, including 5 provided by us.

    Find out more about The Upper Dales Community Partnership.

    The Nidderdale Plus Partnership, a community run enterprise, operates out of Pateley Bridge and provides services and link people and groups across the whole of Nidderdale. It is supported by the our Stronger Communities service.

    It provides a community library, community car and a front desk for local council services and police matters. Nidderdale Plus supports local residents and small businesses by providing office services, a meeting room and hot-desking facilities. It signposts tourists to the fantastic local attractions, beauty spots and places to stay and eat.

    Nidderdale Plus runs with the help of over 40 volunteers who provide most of the services, under the guidance of a partnership manager and community hub coordinator. Its community car scheme has helped to ensure residents without access to public or private transport, can travel across the district.

    Thanks to the hard-work of volunteer drivers, and a car provided through ourselves, there are now 60 regular users who can travel for services including doctor’s appointments, but also meet everyday needs such as doing their regular shop.

    A second car, accessible for residents in wheelchairs and with mobility difficulties, is broadening the service which goes from strength to strength

    Find out more about Nidderdale Plus.

    A vibrant community hub that has developed over the last two years; it has circa 150 volunteers, providing a wide range of practical, wellbeing, and connectivity projects from litter picking to choirs to accessible pond projects.

    Find out more about Thornton Le Dale Community Hub.