North Yorkshire’s deeply rural communities stand at the crossroads.
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 super-sparse with population density five times below the national average, with just 76 people per square mile compared to 430, which is the English average.
North Yorkshire has rich culture and heritage, high standards of education provision and strong local economies. It has resilient and self-reliant communities and a reputation for hard work, straight talking and a hearty welcome. A great deal of good work has already taken place to strengthen our communities and make them more sustainable. But like rural communities across the country North Yorkshire faces unprecedented challenges linked economic and financial pressures, connectivity, climate change, a growing aging population, it’s geography and of course Brexit.
The county’s huge scale and scattered populations present significant issues around distances people need to travel for jobs and services, digital connectivity and public transport. It has more small rural schools with fewer than 50 children on roll than anywhere else in England. North Yorkshire continues to fight for a fairer funding formula but despite these efforts, eight schools have closed in the last three years and many more have significant budget pressures.
Affordable rural housing is very limited, creating real difficulties for young people and families who want to settle. Farmers in particular face tough times ahead.
How we are responding
Hear from some of those involved in the commission.
We have seized the moment and established an independent Rural Commission to give a fresh perspective on these challenges and to find new ways to create opportunities in the fight to save some of the county’s most rural communities from decline.
In a move believed to be the first of its type in England, North Yorkshire County Council has invited eight people with expertise in and extensive knowledge of rural affairs, the environment and tourism, upland farming, economics and the county’s culture and geography – to come together to examine key issues and challenges.
Over an eight-month period the Commission will examine the following themes in depth:
It is a unique and dynamic initiative by a council to address the crisis in rurality. The Commission’s job will be to provide an action plan and workable solutions by next summer to maximise sustainability over the next ten years and an evidence base as leverage for increased Government support.
The commissioners will be expected to put forward a series of workable solutions for our consideration and evaluation.
Cllr Carl Les, Leader of the County Council, said: “North Yorkshire is rich in outstanding natural beauty. We have, without doubt, some of the most spectacular landscapes in England, with rolling Dales, imposing moors, a spectacular coast and beautiful villages and market towns. But with this geography and scale come very significant challenges and these are getting harder. We are not unique in recognising this, but I believe we are unique in taking this dynamic action to halt rural decline here.
“85 per cent of our county is what is classed as ‘super-sparse’. Our population density is five times below the national average, with just 76 people per square mile compared to 430, which is the English average.
“Our huge scale gives us particular challenges around distances people need to travel for jobs and services, digital connectivity and public transport.
“We have more rural schools than anywhere else in England and continue to fight for a fairer funding formula, but despite our efforts eight schools have closed in the last three years and many more have significant budget pressures. Affordable rural housing is very limited and farmers in particular face tough times ahead.
“Our challenge is to examine these issues in a new and innovative way and seek workable solutions to halt and reverse rural decline.
“I am delighted with the calibre and enthusiasm of our commissioners and wish to thank them for embracing our invitation with such passion and grit.”
North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission will be chaired by The Very Rev John Dobson DL, Dean of Ripon: “There is no doubt that our very rural communities face many pressures in the modern world, but by exploring these together in a structured way we hope to get a greater understanding of the issues and therefore the potential solutions.
“We will operate independently of the council but be supported by them and this is important because often a fresh perspective can shed light on problems which may not necessarily be new themselves.
“North Yorkshire County Council is to be congratulated on establishing this rural commission. Engaging with this great rural region and its particular challenges and opportunities is a priority for us at Ripon Cathedral. It is a privilege to be serving as the commission’s chair.”
Purpose and aims of the Rural Commission
The purpose and aims of the Rural Commission are to:
- Recommend the actions that local partners should take over the next ten years in order to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
- Improve the evidence base and arguments that will enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support to maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.
- The panel will be will be 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 North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.
- The Very Rev John Dobson DL, Dean of Ripon (Chair)
- Martin Booth - experienced community worker, project manager, trainer and social entrepreneur
- Chris Clark - Partner in Nethergill Associates, a business management consultancy – building an eco-hill farm business – member NDNPA
- Heather Hancock – Chair of the (National) Agricultural forum, former Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and a landowner in the Dales
- Jean MacQuarrie – Editor-in-Chief, Yorkshire Weeklies – JPI Media
- Professor Sally Shortall - Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy, Newcastle University
- Dr Debbie Trebilco - Director of Community Energy England and of the North York Moors National Park Trust.
- Sir William Worsley - Chairman of the National Forest Company and of Hovingham Estate.
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. Priority is 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; 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.
North Yorkshire’s challenges
But the challenges remain and addressing them becomes harder in changing and uncertain times.
North Yorkshire’s population is aging at a faster rate than many other areas in the UK. People who are 65 years old and over make up 23.7 per cent of our population. This compares to 17.9 per cent in the population of England as a whole.
North Yorkshire has a lower proportion of young people than the national average – 25.8 per cent under 25 compared to 30.2 per cent nationally. As with many rural areas, many younger people leave the county following further and higher education.
In some parts of the county a low wage economy presents growing recruitment issues which may be exacerbated by Brexit. The relatively isolated nature of populations also creates challenges in recruitment of highly skilled professional people in key services such as teaching and health care.
People in North Yorkshire pay twice as much council tax in relative terms as those in London boroughs like Westminster and Camden and receive less Government funding, yet the costs tend to be higher.
People of all ages, gender and ethnicity want to live in thriving communities that have superfast, reliable connectivity; reliable and speedy transportation and dynamic business, community, cultural, health, leisure and hospitality amenities.
But super-sparse rural communities in particular are struggling to survive in the face of these mounting challenges.
It is hoped therefore that the Rural Commission will bring a fresh perspective and shed new light on tackling long-term problems.
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.
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.
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.