THE custodians of one of Britain’s most outstanding landscapes have launched a move to relax housebuilding restrictions in the area, saying it is vital to arrest population decline.

The North York Moors National Park Authority has revealed a series of measures to provide more affordable homes to bolster communities in the 1,436sq km area which saw its population fall by 4.2 per cent to 22,997 residents between 2001 and 2017.

Since 2001 the area has seen the numbers of people aged 15 and under and those aged 30 to 44 decline by 23 per cent and 31 per cent respectively, while those aged 60 and over has increased by 30 per cent.

A meeting of the park authority heard the situation was being exacerbated by the high quality environment, which had led to 17.3 per cent of the national park’s housing stock being second homes and pushing house prices to above the national average at £255,000, despite 32 per cent of all households having incomes of £20,000 or less in 2014.

Officers said in addition, with national park status, together with the rural character of the North York Moors, meant there were few opportunities for new housebuilding.

They said a revised Local Plan, which is set to be published on Monday, ahead of a public consultation and the plan being submitted to the Government in June, would help safeguard the park’s unique qualities while guiding planning decisions over the next five years.

A key element of the plan includes allowing larger developments of principal residence housing – properties which can be lived in by anyone, but only as their main residence – at suitable sites in villages.

A Rural Exception Sites policy aims to allow affordable housing to be built where housing would not normally be permitted.

Officers said the revised strategy, which comes as the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is also working to encourage younger people to live there, would help safeguard the park’s unique qualities while guiding planning decisions over the next 15 years.

The authority’s deputy chairman, Malcolm Bowes, who has led the plan’s development, said communities within the protected landscape would need homes, jobs and services to thrive.

He told the meeting: “The basic point of this is that we want to support the communities and the population. We know people have been leaving, the population has been going down and services have been lost.

"Sometimes there’s not a lot we can do about that, but what we can do we will do. We want the population to stabilise.

"We want it to be a vibrant area and these policies will enable more development to take place than would otherwise have happened.”