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Skipton hits the top 20 – but could do better
26 March, 2004

John Sheard welcomes the fact that Skipton has been judged one of the top twenty market towns in England – but points out that the place still has problems.

I WAS delighted this week when the much respected (and recently renamed) Campaign for the Protection of Rural England named Skipton as one of the top twenty market towns in the country (see News, March 24).

It has become, I suppose, my home town after 30 years of wandering around most of the UK and a bit of the rest of the world, and my wife and I chose to settle here some 20 years ago having spent several years prior to that searching for the ideal spot.
Goods news, bad news for Skipton as a market town

To reach its judgement, the CPRE inspected 120 small country towns and found that many of them were having their local individuality stamped out of them by crass modern buildings and shops built without local materials and that their High Streets were dying under competition from out-of-town retail complexes.

In the former, Skipton has been quite lucky. It has escaped the worst sort of building development after the outcry which greeted the abortion known as No 9 High Street, built by the council back in the 1960s directly opposite the parish church and the castle.

The report also says that in many towns, green-field development for mainly commuter residents has permanently changed the character of the towns, their local identities swamped by could-be-anywhere housing.

In this, Craven District Council planners deserve a hefty pat on the back. Some of the “in-filling” housing which has been built around Victoria Mill, on a prime site between the beck and the canal, is – according to an architect friend of mine – a model of its kind.

And the mill itself, with its listed chimney and fine stone façade, won a national civic society gold medal for its conversion from near derelict industrial property into prestigious housing. In this, Skipton can be proud.

Significantly, however, the CPRE said that even the 20 top towns all faced some problems, like traffic congestion or failing High Streets, and did not include Skipton in its list of seven chosen for outstanding success. All of those were in the South or South West with the single exception of Easingwold in North Yorkshire.

And here’s the rub. Although Skipton High Street cannot be described as failing, it is undoubtedly struggling for survival: every year, an old-established family closes, to be replaced by yet another charity shop. There is even a coach firm in Merseyside which advertises day excursions to “the charity shop capital of the North.” Guess where?

And, even worse, the town’s traffic and parking situation has gone from bad to worse to downright disastrous in the past four or five years, thanks mainly to Craven District Council’s politically correct attitude towards the motor car.

The town has had two – or is it three? – traffic surveys in the past decade, each of which costing something like £50,000, and all have come up with the same conclusion: Skiptonians, and the people from surrounding villages, want more parking spaces for their cars.

This demand has been systematically ignored by the council, which is obsessed with getting people out of their cars and onto their feet – or bicycles. One Liberal councillor recently enraged the entire community by suggesting that all traffic would have to come down Keighley Road, with all other entrances and exits closed.

To many (including me) this was total insanity. I make my living in the Yorkshire Dales and the A65, sad that it is, is almost home from home. To used the Keighley Road would add perhaps 50 miles a week to my motoring – and send me up and down the High Street two dozen times at least.

The council must drop its political correctness and realise that Skipton is not a big city (thank God) with regular bus services or even an underground system. People in the Dales need their cars for work, shopping and play, let alone important personal engagements like visits to the doctor.

Skipton bills itself as “The Gateway to the Dales.” As such, it serves a very wide local community as well as hundreds of thousands of visitors essential to local prosperity. Unless the district council finally grasps the motor car nettle, it could soon become “The Ghost Town of the Dales.”

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