A PUBLIC body whose first purpose is to conserve and enhance the cultural heritage of a national park has blocked the restoration of a historic farm building in a conservation area dedicated to such properties.

Members of Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority voted against a young farming family’s scheme to reoccupy a Victorian property in one of the most remote parts of the national park, despite widespread concerns for the future of agriculture and over the retention of younger people in the area.

An online meeting of the authority heard the application was “very significant” and a statement by applicants Mark and Linda Rukin, who said their goal was to continue living and working in Swaledale, whilst raising their children.

They said with the future of farming being uncertain, they had been encouraged to diversify their Swaledale farm business and hoped the re-occupation of the house close to the Pennine Way at West Stonesdale, near Keld, “would help to provide an additional income to allow us to continue farming traditionally in the uplands”.

It said: “As custodians of the countryside, we’d hate to have to watch the former dwelling fall into a worse state of disrepair and become an eyesore, which we know will happen without some attention, but without a use we just cannot justify any spending on the property.”

The couple were supported by Hawes and Upper Swaledale councillor Jill McMullon, who said they deserved “great admiration for having the determination and drive to take on a farm and all the work that goes with it”.

However, Richard Graham, the authority’s head of development management, said the decision on the scheme was finely balanced as while the scheme would see the conservation of traditional buildings, the properties’ heritage significance was not great.

He said the applicants had also failed to answer a number of questions, such as whether the plans would adversely affect wildlife.

Recommending the plans be refused, he added the house would need to be connected to services, which would entail providing 500 metres of electricity line, but it was “not clear that the very high cost or feasibility” of taking the cables underground had been investigated.

Authority member John Amsden, a farmer and Richmondshire councillor, said no farmer would spend money maintaining such stone buildings unless it would boost their business.

He added as the authority was aiming to enhance the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale barns and walls conservation area, it was “ridiculous letting them fall down”.

Ahead of members voting against the scheme, the planning committee’s chair and cultural heritage champion Julie Martin said: “My underlying concern is that this is an extremely remote area, well above Keld, which is in itself a very remote part of the park, so re-introducing activity right up there on the edge of the moor would definitely have landscape impact.”