A GROUP of North Yorkshire villages has become the first in the region to win cash to help them plan for a prosperous future.

The Hillside Parishes, near Thirsk, have been awarded almost £15,000 by the Countryside Agency's Vital Villages initiative to create a parish plan.

Designed to help revitalise an area, a parish plan is a guide to the future needs of residents, and covers a wide range of economic and social issues, including transport, leisure and amenities.

The Hillside Parishes cover the villages of Knayton, Boltby, Upsall, Kirby Knowle, Felixkirk, Cowesby and Borrowby.

The grant will be used to help those villages take stock of their facilities, identify future needs and allow residents to take part in future planning of the area.

Each household will receive a questionnaire which will identify areas of concern and in need of improvement. The results will form the basis of the plan.

The award has been warmly welcome locally. Anne Johnston, of Borrowby Parish Council, said: "We are giving residents the chance to have a real say in the future development of the area.

"The questionnaires are not simply to be filled in and returned, as each household will be given the chance to discuss their individual opinion. We need to plan for the needs of our growing community."

The seven villages share a part-time sub-post office, a village shop and three pubs.

Transport to the nearest towns of Thirsk and Northallerton is limited, and no recreational facilities are available for either the young or older villagers.

The Countryside Agency's regional co-ordinator for Vital Villages, Alison Johnson, said: "The parish plans grant is about giving parishes a chance to run their own affairs and the ability to set out what they want their town or village to become.

"The response from the Yorkshire region has been extremely promising, with the Hillside Parishes being the first to be awarded a grant."

Hambleton District Council and the Yorkshire Rural Community Council have assisted in the planning. A detailed insight into the parishes can be found at www.hillsider.co.uk.

l To register interest in applying for a parish plan or to be sent an information pack contact 0870 333 0171.