Sir - Was ever a community more poorly served by its local council than Skipton?

We’ve had to put up with a great deal from Craven District Council in recent years, from a series of utterly bonkers development schemes, to financial mismanagement on a truly shocking scale, to publicly owned land being sold for a song.

But the latest scheme to build an industrial estate on Aireville Park just about takes the chocolate-covered Hobnob. Aireville Park is Skipton’s green lung – an invaluable oasis of open space in what is quite a crowded little town, which is enjoyed by thousands of townspeople and visitors every day.

But instead of enhancing and preserving this precious asset for future generations, our local council commissions a report which wants to completely ruin it by building a “technology park” – a posh name for an industrial estate.

The most depressing aspect of this affair is that even the councillors who opposed this lunatic idea did so not on the grounds of principle, but because they were fearful of a public outcry. In other words, they realise they can’t get away with it “at the moment”, but whether it is in five, ten or 15 years, they are determined to send in the bulldozers – unless ordinary people act decisively to stop them now.

The philosophy seems to be that every single piece of open space within the town’s boundaries – including Aireville Park and the Gawflat conservation meadow – must be built on. I don’t remember voting for that.

Councillors and officials should be under no illusion – the Ove Arup report isn’t “a starting point for discussion”. It is a complete non-starter. Before the £30,000 fee is handed over, the consultants should be told to go away and come back with proposals that might actually improve Skipton as a place to live and work – not completely ruin it.

And if the current crop of councillors cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of Skipton and its residents, perhaps it is time we elected people who can.

Perhaps a few Save Aireville Park candidates at the next election may help to bring them to their senses.

William Carmichael, West Bank Road, Skipton

Keep the peace

Sir - The roar of motorbikes going back and forth on the byway near Cowling Pinnacle (Craven Herald, November 21) has drowned out the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

Horse riders are right to be angry at the wrecking, by motor vehicles, of a green lane that equestrians, along with mountain bikers and walkers, value as a place of quiet and peaceful recreation.

But horse riders need to be aware their own national organisation, the British Horse Society, has always actively worked with the motoring lobby to secure routes that will be open not only to non-motorised users, but to 4x4s and motorbikes as well.

It is not surprising that when such a route – a ‘byway open to all traffic’ – is secured, it will be used by motor vehicles, even when that jeopardises the amenity of non-motorised users.

I do not know whether the Craven Bridleways Group, whose members were, understandably, dismayed by the activities of the motorcyclists and quad bike riders, support the British Horse Society’s policy of working to keep byways open to motors.

It seems unlikely that equestrians would have given their support to a policy that is against their own interests. But, in any case, what is now needed is for all horse riders who value green lanes to join the growing alliance of all those who wish to see these lanes preserved for non-motorised recreation, coupled with essential motorised use by farmers.

The temporary closure order, prohibiting motor vehicles from the track in question, must be made permanent. Only then will the fabric of the lane, when it is repaired, be secure against further damage, and only then will the peace and tranquillity that non-motorised users can reasonably expect, be guaranteed.

Michael Bartholomew, Chairman, Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, The Civic Centre, Cross Green, Otley

Budget busters...1

Sir – Craven District Council has apparently discarded all charitable donations, such as the Little Red Bus, but possibly still going ahead with the statue of Fred Trueman.

In addition, it wants to increase waste collection costs for businesses, at a time when businesses are under colossal pressure and fly-tipping is ever increasing!

Over a year ago, Craven Ratepayers’ Action Group (CRAG) had a meeting with the then head of accounts, fearful of the financial situation which the council was rushing headlong into by increasing staff numbers almost 25 per cent in three short years.

We prophesied wages alone would soon be more than the combined business, private and Government council taxes collected by that council. We were told council finances were in fine order and not to worry.

The council was run at that time by a “cabinet” of just three: Carl Lis, Paul English and the present leader Chris Knowles-Fitton. Coun Knowles-Fitton declared the council to have no financial problems, said that there was plenty of spare money and went on to sign the accounts. Earlier accounts were damned by the audit commission for “material misstatements” and the accounts signed by that councillor carry two interesting figures: Total income from business, private, and Government: £8 million; wages £8.1 million.

Staff costs just four years earlier were circa £5.6 million – some increase! Of course, there are other reasons for a lack of money, such as selling land too cheaply to Skipton Building Society.

It might also be noted that one way of increasing income for the council would be to carpet Craven with masses of new build, perhaps starting with Cross Hills and Sutton, and increasing council tax income rapidly, but I’m sure that such a thought will be far from their minds!

Alan Perrow, CRAG, Bannister Walk, Cowling

Budget busters...2

Sir - On October 8 in the public meeting at Skipton council offices, the financial mismanagement by Craven Council was revealed, resulting in a projected deficit of over £1 million, ie approximately 14 per cent of the total budget.

The council had planned to spend approximately £8 million, but was more than £1 million short of the money needed to meet this commitment.

Governors of most secondary schools have a larger budget than this. If they were so incompetent, they would be sacked – and rightly.

So how did this arise? Officers did not provide councillors with regular monitoring reports. And elected members did not require them to do so. So the figure accepted in their 2008/2009 budget, estimating an underspend of £500,000 last year, was totally unrealistic.

But it was accepted by members because they had not put themselves in a position to know any better. In fact, there was overspend of approximately £800,000 because there was total lack of financial control.

Elected members of all parties, including former leader Coun Carl Lis (Independent) and deputy Coun Paul English (Lib Dem), along with the Conservatives admitted this failure in their basic responsibility.

Yes they did honestly hold up their hands. Not one member pretended to have carried out their duty. Who did they think they were? Directors of a bank? We the taxpayers expect higher standards of those in the public sector. Political parties who support these people are to blame as well as the individuals.

So what can we do? We can demand resignations and use our votes in 2009 against any Tory or Liberal candidate or Independent who was a member of Craven District Council in 2007/2008.

Bob Holland, Assistant secretary, Skipton and Ripon Labour Party, Skipton Road, Cononley

Old photograph

Sir - I was surprised by the article (Herald, November 21) on the proposal for a new housing development in Settle on the south side of Ingfield Lane, between the Falcon Manor Hotel and Brockholes View.

My surprise is not only in learning that there is such a proposal, but also in the fact that your article was accompanied by an aerial photograph so old that it does not show, in the adjacent field along Ingfield Lane, a housing project which has slowly been proceeding there over several years. Brockholes View is the name of its access road.

The eighth in that development of two-floored sandstone houses is currently under construction; my recollection is that there is planning permission for 20. The existence of this adjacent development is surely relevant to the acceptability or otherwise of this latest proposal.

Ian Smith, Upper Settle

* Editor’s note: It was, indeed, an old aerial photo, but it was only intended to give an idea of the site of the proposed development and, just at present, we couldn’t run to sending up another plane!

Reds and greys

Sir - I am writing in response to “Cull the tree rats” (Letters, November 21). I love squirrels, both red and grey, and I am pig sick of hearing all the time that it is grey squirrels that are decimating the native reds.

Red squirrels have always been weak animals which can’t fight off viruses. I have a lovely Edwardian book called “How I Tamed the Wild Squirrels” by Eleanor Tyrell. She writes: “Squirrels are becoming rarer. They are slaughtered by the thousands in England and Scotland. The Highland Squirrel Club exists for the purpose of exterminating them ... accounted for 46,000 slain up to 1912, and the board of agriculture has issued a mandate authorising their destruction wherever and whenever possible...”

The last line should fill DKJ Harrison with joy as it reflects his or her own words: “The North American tree rat should be culled at every opportunity.” But unlike DKJ Harrison, the book is writing about the native red!

My point is that people have always wanted to blame and kill squirrels. The reds of the Edwardian era were blamed for damaging trees, and killing birds, ie eggs and chicks.

Julia Wood, Bracewell Street, Barnoldswick

Seasonal greeting

Sir - This is to applaud last Saturday’s pre-Christmas events in Barnoldswick. Musicians, artists and craftspeople, singers from schools, the community choir, youngsters who paraded angel lanterns, imaginative traders and notably work by the town council with borough back-up – all that must have sent Santa off (with his reindeer and snow dogs) thinking what a grand town it is.

It recalled milltown community celebrations, not to mention community spirit. It would be folly to take an over-rosy view or to ignore problems and unhappiness. But just as in Barnoldswick, people across West Craven and Craven put vitality into their own towns and villages. Once in a while we should say so, and to hell with the begrudgers.

Hugh Lawrence, King Street, Barnoldswick

Councillor Bennett?

Sir - I was very interested in your report of the impending closure of Settle’s Dailyfresh Delicatessen and, in particular, Alan Bennett’s point of view. He shows he has a real insight into the needs of a community in a town like Settle. If only someone of his calibre were willing to serve on our district council.

Liz Easterby, Mount Pleasant, Grassington

Wind farm common sense?

Sir - Re Tuesday’s council meeting about the Brightenber wind farm application, the results were: NIMBYs 1 - Environmentalists 0. Yes, unfortunately the NIMBYs prevailed over common sense and concern over climate change. All that can be said is that I hope they are ready for climate change and that the rest of us can cope with it too, and that I hope they are aware that, when the council get fined for not meeting targets for renewables, the council won’t be the ones forking out for the fines – of course it will be us via our council tax.

Carol Oliver, Wood View, Embsay

Sir - Please may I use your columns to thank the 400 objectors who went to Aireville School to vote against the development of the wind turbines at Brightenber Hill. Common sense won the day and now, thankfully, our beautiful countryside and cultural heritage will be saved from the destruction of an industrial development. Thank you also to the councillors and planning professionals who helped in this process.

Stephanie Emmett, Ivy End Bank, Newton