North Yorkshire launches rural commission in battle to save communities

Cllr Carl Les, Martin Booth and Dean of Ripon, Rev John Dobson
Cllr Carl Les, Martin Booth and Dean of Ripon, Rev John Dobson

Following a launch event in the village of Hudswell in Richmondshire yesterday, North Yorkshire County Council’s new Rural Commission meets for the first time today, with an ambition to make “significant” recommendations that can help the county council address a wide range of economic and social problems.

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 to come together to examine key issues and challenges.

Martin Booth, Cllr Carl Les and Dean of Ripon, Rev John Dobson

Martin Booth, Cllr Carl Les and Dean of Ripon, Rev John Dobson

Over an eight-month period, the commission will examine farming, transport, education, housing, economy and accessibility.

By next summer, the commissioners will be expected to put forward a series of workable solutions for the council’s consideration and evaluation. However, Cllr Carl Les, leader of the County Council, said: “If quick wins are noticed I hope that we can be fleet of foot and introduce them straight away.”

While their findings and recommendations will be public, the commissioners will sit in private and will meet with and hear from people living in super-sparse rural communities in North Yorkshire.

Cllr Les 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.

The launch took place in Hudswell, recently named Yorkshire Village of the Year by The Dalesman.

The launch took place in Hudswell, recently named Yorkshire Village of the Year by The Dalesman.

“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.

The Dean of Ripon, the Rev John Dobson, who chairs the commission, said: “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.”

“I have confidence there are people on the commission with the wisdom to make significant recommendations that can have significant impacts,” he said.

Community worker Martin Booth is one of the commissioners, having helped to launch Yorkshire’s first community-owned pub, The George and the Dragon in Hudswell, which has gone on to offer a shop, library, community allotments and free internet access, and hosted yesterday’s launch event.

Mr Booth said: “What we’ve done here you could do almost anywhere.

“My only area of expertise is all of the things we have done in the village of Hudswell, which is buy the pub, open a shop and build some social housing”

“I’m happy to be part of it and to give what experience and knowledge I have to the commission.”

Dorothy Fairburn, northern director of the Country Land and Business Association, said she hoped the commission finds “new and creative solutions to long existing challenges in Yorkshire’s sparsely populated rural areas.”

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 commissioners are:

- 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 - chairs the Food Standards Agency, a Government department which regulates the food and feed industry

- 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.