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"Crunch time" at Dales national park

[Tuesday 24 January 2006]

THE Government has frozen the budget of the Yorkshire Dales National Park for the next two years, which will mean the park authority will have to make "crunch decisions" later this year.

The park authority will receive £4.9 from the rural affairs department Defra in the next two financial years, the same as its grant for the current year, which ends in April - and that could threaten its "healthy" financial state.

Says park chairman Carl Lis: "To date, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has been in a healthy state financially with no real problems - but all that is about to change.

"This is an extremely disappointing settlement from our point of view, particularly in light of the fact that national parks are expected to deliver far more of the Government's agenda, whether it is something like the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, affordable housing, social inclusion or modernising rural delivery. The freeze will mean our work will suffer.

"On top of the projects and services for which we are responsible, we are committed to nationally-negotiated pay scales, including annual increments that we will also have to fund. Inflation will cost the authority between 4 per cent and 5 per cent (£0.2m) - money we will have to find through savings because Defra has given us no extra to fund it.

"This means a number of budgets for different projects will be frozen or reduced in order to achieve these savings.

"We rank our work in order of priority and money is allocated accordingly. As a result, high priority areas such as biodiversity, farm conservation, rights of way and green lanes will be largely unaffected but a number of lower ranking projects which we would like to deliver - like education, public transport, traffic management and cycling - will stand still.

"In addition there will be a reduction of £107,000 in work to continue the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which, even though it is a high priority, does not warrant the amount of money which was set aside for it.

"But, despite these cuts, we will come through the year relatively unscathed because we have a financial cushion of cash in reserve to absorb the effects of a frozen budget.

"The real crunch will come in 2007/8 and beyond when that cushion will have been spent and we will have to look at the future direction of the Authority and its ability to do the work it was created to do."

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