NATIONAL Park chiefs have sent out a message that the Yorkshire Dales is open to new housing developments in a bid to keep communities vibrant.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has contacted landowners, developers, builders, planning agents and Housing Associations to urge them to consider building new homes in the Park.

In an email, the YDNPA stresses that its planning policies have recently changed, with one of the main objectives being to increase housing supply.

The new, more flexible Local Plan sets a target of getting 55 new homes built in the National Park each year.

Last year, 39 homes were built.

A lack of affordable housing in the Dales is thought to be one of the factors affecting the ability of local communities to retain and attract young people and families.

The park authority has recently called for action to protect primary schools within its boundaries.

This follows the closure of Horton-in-Ribblesdale Primary School within the park and Rathmell just outside it by the education authority, North Yorkshire County Council, because of falling numbers.

YDNPA Chairman, Carl Lis, explained: “We want to nudge builders into action.

“New build housing is now permitted in more towns and villages across the National Park than ever before.

“We have put together a long list of sites that have the benefit of an existing planning permission or housing allocation.

“Our message is simple; if you bring forward high quality schemes for these sites, we will approve them.”

Mark Corner, chairman of Friends of the Dales, said: "The lack of affordable housing and the shortage of jobs that pay enough to make housing affordable are two of the biggest challenges facing the National Park and we support efforts to help tackle these issues.

"With an average house price of £300,000 in the National Park, a 40% premium above houses in the region outside of the Park, and average incomes of below £20,000 the size of the affordability gap is clear.

"Without affordable housing, and indeed other essential services, we will see our Dales communities become more unsustainable, with young families forced to move away, leading to, for example, the closure of primary schools as sadly witnessed recently at Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

"So, we support the Authority in encouraging the building of housing for rent or purchase that is affordable but real care is needed that we avoid proliferation of open market housing that doesn't address the issue.

"We don't need more second homes. Developers seem to have a tendency to agree to the provision of affordable housing as part of a development but subsequently find reasons to wriggle out of commitments. Or local occupancy is specified and over time pressure grows to lift this condition. As well as nudging others to act we would like to see the Authority itself adopt some more innovative approaches, such as investing itself in land that is used specifically for affordable local housing. The New Forest National Park Authority has done just that and it may well be a model that could be adopted in the Yorkshire Dales."

The YDNPA adopted the Local Plan in December last year.

Since then, proposals have been approved for 79 new homes, with new policies on converting roadside barns and other buildings to local occupancy dwellings accounting for 50 of these permissions.

Mr Lis said there were other changes that builders would find attractive.

“Policies now permit more open market housing than before, making it more financially viable for developers to build the affordable and local occupancy homes that are so badly needed by local communities,” he said.

“Affordable and local occupancy housing is also subject to more flexible criteria. The Authority will negotiate on the mix of housing provided on development sites.”