AS most of Upper Wharfedale already knows, after living in Grassington for over 25 years I have now moved away, to Northern Ireland.

Amongst other things, this has brought an obligation, with great reluctance, to resign from the parish council and from the Standards Committee of Craven District Council as a parish representative.

I did not feel it was right to try and represent local views when I was not on hand to meet people and see with my own eyes anything which they wanted to talk about.

This however brings a different benefit in that freed as I am from any risk of being considered as speaking for the council, I can now express a private view about local matters. I am grateful that I can keep up to date via your paper.

I am sure that time will reveal more differences between Northern Ireland and northern England but there are two which strike you immediately.

Northern Ireland has next to no public footpaths.

You simply cannot walk out of your door as you can in the Dales in the certain knowledge that within a short distance you will find a footpath leading you across fields, beside rivers or onto the fells. This is despite living in rural County Down.

There are some paths, I suspect old pilgrim routes, around the grave of St. Patrick in the city of Downpatrick, and sites associated with him.

There are also some around the perimeter of the Mourne mountains. There is an excellent footpath known as the Ulster Way which follows the magnificent coast of north Antrim and the Giant's Causeway but that was created by statute, as were the paths along the River Lagan between Belfast and Lisburn.

The freedom to walk across fields on footpaths simply does not exist here and there is no Right to Roam.

More importantly, given the changes that are coming to Craven, is the lack of local democratic representation.

Villages and small towns here do not have their own councils. If anyone wants to comment on planning matters, which is probably the most frequent reason for contacting an authority, while affected neighbours must be notified there is no local elected forum to gather local views and express them to the planning authority.

There is no local involvement either in such matters as lighting or refuse collection.

Meetings of the local authority for this area are held over 20 miles away.

The current planning system in England certainly has its faults and sometimes those seem even worse as they do, to an extent, depend on the planning authority.

For example the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is a planning authority but in addition to national planning law, it also has to operate within the constraints of the legislation governing national parks.

For this reason alone I would urge your readers to cherish your local councils. Support them and take part in them. They are truly the voice of the people conveyed to the higher authority.

They are almost always not politically aligned so they are not partisan. Parish and town councils, at least in the national park are statutory consultees: they must be consulted before any planning decision is given.

That does not mean they can decide applications, and indeed at times during my years on the parish council there were occasions where the council felt aggrieved that their carefully considered views had been ignored.

The more that parish councils enjoy obvious public support the louder and stronger their voices will be, so respect them and support them for the sake of your own communities.

Michael Rooze

County Down

Northern Ireland