A PIONEERING initiative to halt the exodus of young families from a national park has been heralded.

Members of Richmondshire District Council, which is the first authority of several based around the Yorkshire Dales National Park to commit to the collaboration, said the scheme represented the culmination of a long-standing ambition to tackle the park’s declining population.

Councillor Helen Grant said: “Thirty-odd years we have been banging on about this. It keeps coming home to roost. Nobody wants to live in a museum.”

The authority’s corporate director Callum McKeon told members all the councils covering the park area would contribute £20,000 and officer time to the Attracting Younger People scheme.

He said an action plan, featuring work such as investigating the feasibility of establishing a Dales-wide Community Land Trust and identifying ‘exception’ sites for affordable housing, was being fine-tuned.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Yvonne Peacock said evidence was clear that 18 to 44-year-olds were leaving rural areas and while the project would focus on the national park, it could provide solutions for other rural areas of Richmondshire.

She said: “We have got to stop the decline first. You can’t just rely on the people that are already living in the Dales. We have got to attract other people to live in a rural area and start with the businesses.”

Richmond member Councillor Clive World said giving the plan a chance to bed in was vital and called for all schools in the national park area to be kept open for five years.

Cllr Peacock said while improving job opportunities, maintaining school provision and the availability of affordable homes would be key elements of the initiative, the marketing of the national park needed reviewing.

She said: “All your marketing is tourist, wonderful, come and visit. They can come and visit as much as they like, if we don’t have people living there to service them in hotels...

“We all know about the problems we have and we have done a lot of piecemeal things. But there has come a time when we have to do something a bit wider and really go for it. The only way we can do this is if we get everybody on board.”