THE Yorkshire Dales National Park yesterday took a major step forward towards tackling the area's most serious social problem - the lack of affordable housing for local people.
With property prices in the Dales now averaging well over £200,000, hundreds of young couples are being forced out of villages where their families have lived for years - often for generations - into the towns and cities where they can afford to buy a home.
Meeting in Muker, Swaledale, yesterday, the park authority agreed to contribute funding towards a feasibility study that will explore an innovative new method of providing low cost housing in Upper Wensleydale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
The study, to be commissioned by the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, will assess the feasibility of establishing a Community Housing Investment Trust.
If established, the trust would invite residents living in the area, and other public and private investors with an interest in the Dales, to invest into a local housing fund with the aim of creating a pot of money to support local people in their purchase of housing on the open market.
Steve Macaré, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: "With house prices continuing to rise and local incomes continuing to fall below the national average, it is becoming increasingly difficult for local people to buy the properties they need to remain in the area and continue to the vibrancy and future of their own communities.
"We are pleased to support this study which will explore an exciting new approach to providing more local residents, particularly young people and families, with the opportunity to buy local property.
"If established, the trust would seek to redress the discrepancy between local incomes and current house prices, allowing local people to buy existing houses in their local area."
The study is backed by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency and the York-based Joseph Rowntree Trust, one of the world's oldest social research charities. If the trust is successful, similar schemes could be implemented in other areas experiencing similar problems.
The study will commence in June. Further information is available from the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, Market Place, Hawes.