North Yorkshire Rural Commission

The North Yorkshire Rural Commission was the first of its kind to be launched nationally to tackle a range of long-standing issues affecting countryside communities.

The independent commission was established by North Yorkshire County Council in the autumn of 2019 to preserve the beauty of the countryside while encouraging new ways of living to make rural life more sustainable in the future.

The commission looked at seven key themes, which included the countryside economy, the need to change the way energy is provided as well as mobile and internet connections.

Other issues which the commission investigated included farming and land management, rural transport, housing in the countryside, and rural schools and education and training. 

The commission was made of up experts across all the topics which were investigated, and it was chaired by the Dean of Ripon, the Rev John Dobson.

The Rural Commission met 20 times, taking evidence from more than 70 participants, including MPs and government officials. Three visits were made to rural communities, while 27 written submissions were considered.

The commissioners’ final report was published in July 2021 and highlighted problems including a lack of affordable housing, poor public transport links and a huge issue with digital connectivity for both mobile and internet coverage in countryside communities. 

The North Yorkshire Rural Commission said there is a need for decision-making powers for issues such as education, transport infrastructure and economic investment to be moved away from the Government to local political leaders to help tackle these long-running issues affecting the countryside.

A proposed devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire was announced by the Government on 1 August, 2022, just over a year after the commission published its final report.

Devolution is a key policy of the Government, handing over decision-making powers and providing millions of pounds in funding to shape major policies and projects on a regional level.

It is hoped that devolution will bring benefits to the 615,000 residents in North Yorkshire including new jobs, better transport links and affordable housing.

A mayor for York and North Yorkshire is due to be elected in May 2024, who will act as an influential figure for the region with close links to the Government to try and get more funding and decision-making powers locally.

Among the commission’s proposals were a levy on the owners of second homes, and an overhaul of the Government’s funding formula for both education and housing.

The county’s economy also needs to be focused on the green energy sector, according to the commission.

One of the key recommendations in the commission’s final report was to establish a rural taskforce to help take forward its recommendations.

The taskforce, chaired by North Yorkshire County Council’s chief executive Richard Flinton, met regularly since November 2021.

A 12-month report published by the taskforce in November 2022 outlining how the Rural Commission’s recommendations can be taken forward with the launch of the new North Yorkshire Council on 1 April, 2023.

The commission listed a total of 57 actions in its original report, which have been streamlined into 47 individual topics by the taskforce which will be addressed over a five-year period.

In the first 12 months of the taskforce’s work, four actions have already been completed, including work to support farming and rural schools.

Why the North Yorkshire Rural Commission was launched

The need for the rural commission was identified due to the vast rural areas in North Yorkshire, which is England’s largest county.

North Yorkshire stretches from Scarborough on the North Sea coast to Bentham in the west and from the edge of Teesside to south of the M62 and is home to National Parks for the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.

85% 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% square mile compared to 430, which is the average for England.

20% of North Yorkshire’s rural areas have no broadband connection compared to 7% 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% of North Yorkshire is designated as either a National Park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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

The population of North Yorkshire is also older than the national average. In the county, 24% of the people not working are retired compared to a national average of 13.6%.

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 25% of the total population and it is expected to increase significantly in the next 20 years.

North Yorkshire also has the highest number of small schools in England, with many seeing falling numbers of pupils which make them hard to sustain financially for the future.

Our track record

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

The county has a strong tradition of volunteering. In one year alone, 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 £7 million 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.

High-tech, high-skilled companies are beginning to move into the county’s rural areas, and 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.

We were 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 recognise the importance and need for affordable and suitable housing to attract families into rural areas, and a commitment has been made to ensure planning policies aim to make communities sustainable. We have supported communities to establish land trusts to build affordable housing. 

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 ExtraCare housing for vulnerable and elderly people into every market town and investing in road maintenance to support local businesses.

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.

The county 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 the recommendations and actions from the Rural Commission, we can, along with our partners and with national government, help to turn the tide on countryside decline and help North Yorkshire’s rural communities grow and prosper.