Access to the Dales becomes a greater priority

Picture: Tanya St. Pierre/Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.
Picture: Tanya St. Pierre/Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

National Park chiefs have pledged to make the Yorkshire Dales more accessible for people of all ages and abilities as they look to capitalise on a more stable financial footing afforded by the park’s boundary extension.

Bosses took tough decisions to make cutbacks to its work when the Government reduced its core grant funding by 27 per cent - or £1.5m in ‘cash’ terms - between 2009 and 2015.

To cope financially, as well as making cuts, the park’s authority moved to secure alternative sources of external funding, and with a government settlement arriving as part of the deal to extend the Dales’ boundary into Cumbria and Lancashire in August last year, the authority reported being in a more stable position as it assessed the future of its 14 existing ‘work programmes’ - which include rights of way, tourism and visitor management.

At a meeting in Bainbridge, members agreed to elevate its ‘Access for All’ programme to being a top priority for a three-year period starting in 2018. The decision is expected to see more staff appointed and its budget increased to run more activities for families, young people and “under-represented” groups, and improve rights of way for people with limited ability by creating “miles without stiles”.

The investment, projected to cost £140,000, will see “trampers” provided at several locations, with suitable routes in the park devised and promoted, and will offer financial support to organisations delivering public transport initiatives.

The authority has already targeted making 170km, or eight per cent of all public rights of way in the National Park, suitable for users of all ages and abilities by 2018. It also plans to introduce five short, waymarked walks from Aysgarth, Grassington, Hawes, Malham and Reeth.

In a report considered at today’s meeting, David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, explained why the authority was in a position to invest.

He wrote: “Over the period from 2009-2015, the Authority was dealing with a cut in core funding... As a result, decisions on the Authority’s priorities were largely focused on which areas of work to cut back or stop, and identifying those few programmes where we would continue to strive to be excellent.

“The extension of the National Park boundary in 2016 – and the consequent funding settlement – does now provide some very welcome stability, though we now need to exercise some degree of caution as a result of the election of a new Government.

“In addition, the Authority’s drive to increase funding from other sources is bearing fruit. So, whilst our core Defra grant this year is £900,000 higher that it was in 2014/15, our expenditure will be £1.7m higher.”

Other top priorities for the authority between 2018 and 2021 are rights of way, development management and land management and biodiversity.