Howard Croft column: Council’s disgraceful act of vandalism in Wensleydale

One of the bridges near the village of Preston-Under-Scar in Wensleydale which has had the old stone balustrades replaced with steel barriers. Picture by Dr David Brooks
One of the bridges near the village of Preston-Under-Scar in Wensleydale which has had the old stone balustrades replaced with steel barriers. Picture by Dr David Brooks

Retirement back to Yorkshire was a plan I conceived about thirty years ago and although there were times when I thought it might not become a reality, here I am. After ten years of retirement here my conviction that it was the right decision has not waivered.

It has been my great good fortune that not only do I live in North Yorkshire, I suppose my favourite Riding, I have for the past two years or so been able to spend about a week every month in the East Riding, in which I was born and grew up, and to get re-acquainted with it, specifically the coastal area between Bridlington and Scarborough. We are very lucky. As Mrs Croft frequently reminds me, all we need now is a flat in Leeds and we would have a foot in all three Ridings. There is, as you may know, a Harvey Nichols department store in Leeds and, as I am sure I have mentioned before, Mrs Croft is an enthusiastic little shopper.

Imagine my surprise when, during a recent visit to see a childhood friend who, like me, had retired to Yorkshire, and like me had resisted the siren call to return to Hull, I noticed a monstrous desecration. He lives on the side of Wensleydale among what I think is the most beautiful landscape in the county, in the country indeed. Wensleydale is, and you may not know this, the only dale in the National Park not named after a river, though why they named it after a cheese I cannot think.

Anyway, there is in his locality a heritage railway – not so fine and extensive as the North York Moors Railway, but a charming asset nevertheless. Wherever there are railways, there are bridges. There are two such near the village of Preston-Under-Scar, which have been there since the coming of the railways, perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago, and very pretty they are. Or were.

North Yorkshire County Council in its great wisdom has removed the old stone balustrades and replaced them with steel barriers of outstanding ugliness, structures that resemble the sides of a submarine or a crude flood defence. One has even been painted green, presumably in a puerile attempt to blend in with the surrounding landscape. All this in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and all in the interest of – you’re ahead of me, I suspect – Health and Safety. No-one locally is aware of anyone falling off the bridge. I am all for local councils providing work for welders, riveters and metal bashers, but what we see here is “not in keeping” to use a phrase beloved of planners. I understand from local sources that this vandalism is permanent.

How is it possible that this violation was permitted? The Council, which closely scrutinises minor alterations to private dwellings, may only do such things with permission and permission can only be granted by – the council! It is not difficult to imagine all those Council officials, conducting self-important meetings in their ghastly Primark suits and coming up with a scheme that positively invites a contribution from spray-painting hoodies.

But things could be worse; we could be living in Anglesey. Council officers there have decided that all children are toilet trained by the age of three and that disposable nappies will not be collected by the refuse department once children have reached that age. Parents will have to supply the council with birth certificates of their babies and once they have reached three no further deposits (into the bins, that is) will be permitted.

There have been protests. Not all children are dry by the cut off age: response – no exceptions. Some children beyond three use disposable nappies at night: no exceptions. Some children with chronic conditions, such as Down syndrome, require such sanitary support well into childhood: no exceptions.

There were other problems. We come into this world needing nappies and some, sadly, go out needing them. What about incontinence in the elderly? No exceptions.

Inevitably, exceptions there would have to be. For every child over the age of three that needs to use nappies for medical reasons a doctor’s letter will be required. What the Royal College of General Practitioners will make of this wheeze is not yet known, but if the Anglesey example is taken up widely they are likely to have a view.

The officers of Anglesey Council have given themselves quite an enforcement problem. I can think of a number of ways in which members of the public might easily get around their problem, but I am reluctant to encourage criminality (there are fines for non-compliance) in others by making suggestions, and I doubt if they will need my poor help in coming up with their own ideas.