Firstly I have to say it has been a 'while' since I ventured down into Dalby Forest and on the approach road from Thornton le Dale, once past the toll gate into the 'Forest Drive', the down hill into the valley was so stunningly beautiful it almost took my breath away. The late spring evening air with the light breeze was filled fresh with heathen aromas and it would have been very easy to spend the next few hours just inhaling and exhaling and invigourating the senses. Representatives from Parishes accross the North York Park Area met up in the new Visitors Building. There was a couple of Park Rangers, in storm trooper 'red' uniforms on hand to natter to whilst the assembley gathered. Anyhow I found myself chatting to a familiar face who turned out to be Brian Watson, from the Coastal Forum and also on the licensing committee with SBC. What a very nice jovial bloke! There was then a short escorted walk down to the new refreshment area and workshop buildings. Got to feel a bit like a sheep being rounded up by Shep with the Red Rangers at the rear. Got chatting to the guy from the Forestry Commision, who were hosting this evenings event, about how the (U'td) Tory plan to sell off the 'Forest ' was thankfully now a distant bad memory. The Forests belong to the public he cheered, (quietly) but rightly so. We stopped to view the new Ellerburn Trail and a 'Parkess' explained how proud they were to now have disabled access running two miles into the forest, at a cost of £ 150 K this was designed specifically for wheelchair users with carers to accompany. They even had bikes to hire that could be attached to the wheelchairs. How fab is that!
Another 'Parkess' then went on to gush over the Gruffalo and how they had been given the Rights by the Gruffalo's agents for 3 years to promote the new childrens activity trail. An 8ft tall Gruffalo was being imported this summer to entertain the kids! Brilliant. Though I did ask Chris France if he could just step in ;-) The workshop spaces opposite the new refreshment area (Courtyard Cafe) had three tenants; PACE Bikes had created a Dalby Bike Barn and they organised a Bike Day every Tuesday evening and everyone was welcome to come along, with rides organised for all abilities accross parts of the 70 KM of cycle trail. (I've forgotten the other two tenants) but there is a large workshop available for community groups and hire.
Then it was down to the Visitor Centre again where the new Childrens play area had been created. This had cost £ 250 K and had been funded by Yourforest. This play area was free for families to use and ran alongside the stream with plenty of picnic areas and well designed wooden bench seating areas overlooking the play area and built from natural materials in keeping with the 'forest' friendly environment. Accross the valley and half way up the forest hill was Go Ape, that had been operating for about 7 years. At a cost of £ 450 K the fees were £ 30 per adult and £ 17 per child, over 7 years. The adult Go Ape trail was 3 hrs and the kids one took 1 hr to complete. The £ 7.00 toll fee was per car so for four people, a Dalby Forest day out wasn't working out too expensive. The Cafeteria had a varied healthy hot meal menu averaging around £ 6.00 per adult head.
The visitor centre itself was a stunning building, designed and built to be totally recycable, with the steel and timber being fitted for easy removal should it need to be relocated. They had moved the cafeteria area down stairs for easier access and created a meeting room upstairs where they hoped more Community groups would make use of the facilities. They even had a certificate licence to hold Weddings.
Outside the visitor centre were two huge plastic (about 20 ft by 10ft white domes), looked a bit like cess tanks, but these were in fact Astronomy Domes. Dalby Forest had received Milky Way Status being one of the drakest places to view the skies. The Astronomical Society held their meetings on the first Friday of each month, with many coming from accross the North of England to participate. They were hoping to achieve Dark Sky Status.
On to the buffet before the meeting, another chance to mix and mingle, and a chance to say hello to Jim Bailey, Chris France, John Fletcher, catch up with John Ritchie and eyeball a few others. The food was outrageously delicious, courtesy of the hosts, the Forestry Commission, not a trifle in site, nom nom nom. Sat at the front of the meeting room was an open vista onto the valley, and a comment made about being like sat at the front of the bus or a cruiseliner but there was no need to go anywhere ...
Now down to the nitty gritty; the Joint Meeting of the Parish Forums, this was Chaired by Peter Milnes, who was keen to keep business informal and short. Thanking the Forestry Commission for hosting the event and highlighting the Visitor Centre's sustainability, information point, interpretation area and exhibition space he also added that some sculptured benches, based on designs by local school children were due to be 'scatterred' around the area this summer.
Item 1 : Recordings of meetings from Rosedale Parish Council - there was concern about the filming of meetings, these being edited and put on Youtube, possibly leading to misrepresentation and ridicule. It was accepeted that meetings needed to be recorded properly and transparency upheld but it was the general concensus that 'filming' by members of the public could be rather 'intimidating' and would prevent people from becoming involved in the democratic process or becoming parish councillors. A response had been received from Eric Pickles that the 'bill' to allow filming of Council Meetings was expected to become law this summer. Andy Wilson said there needed to be a balance between making a true written record, for us the NYMPA resources were limited, we want to share with people but how much information do we share? Advice from Anne McIntosh was that there was no 'bill' as yet but Parishes should record/film their own meetings to counteract any contentious reporting. West Ayton Parish reported being filmed by Steve Old of Real Whitby where the Chairman had 'allowed' them to keep filming. John Ritchie was unhappy that Eric Pickles and Central Govt were interfering in local govt. activity. It was suggested that Jim Bailey would write to the Minister, we do believe in transparency ... but not down the malicious route .... we agree in principle but not always practical ... this could be detrimental to transparency if they are edited and misrepresented and could be a very dangerous tool against democracy.
Item 2. Financial Position: Andy Wilson took the floor to explain that like many other public bodies the financial position was far from great, with further cuts to be made in 2015/16 by at least 10%, with funding down by 40% since 2010 and staff salaries being frozen for the last five years further cuts and savings had to be made. They had decided not to have another 'public consultation' on the next round of cuts and savings but if any member of the public would like to feed into the process they would be more than welcome. Sadly the Moors Bus had to be stopped. This year voluntary redundancies would result in less staff next year, we need to talk about how we pay ourselves, we are lower (salaried) than others Park Authorities and we do run a tight ship, we are not for wasting public money but we do need to be more effective/active about bringing other sources of money in, it is extremely difficult for many in the public sector.
Item 3. Major Planning Issues: AW "When Chris France applied for his position he did ask if there were any minerals issues here ... "
Starting with conventional Gas at Ebberston, the NYMPA approved the application, the two wells were temporary and the impact was not deemed great enough and the harm small enough to accept. We have to look objectively, if it is not harmful we are flexible enough to approve. At Westerdale we are expecting some applications to come in soon. We are not going to leap to conclusions (about fracking).
Potash - Andy Wilson reported that Cleveland Potash, Boulby mine, will be putting in an application this June to erect new buildings to house their expansion into polyhalite. They also want to talk to us about the long term.
In July we are expecting the York Potash application for the Minehead followed later in the year by an application for the MTS, (Mineral Transport System).
Wind-turbines at Guisborough - again we will assess on the merits of the application.
Q. As Parish Councillors we don't have enough information to make decisions about fracking. How are we expected to make decisions on a basis of little knowledge, can we have a debate or an unbiased presentation?
AW: We need to understand the facts (about fracking) and it would be good to debate but trying to find an independent or unbiased presentation would be difficult, we will look into this.
CF: We need to make a decision that is in line with policy, the important thing is to get the policy right. The Mineral and Waste Policy will become the guiding policy on which we can base our decisions.
Q: RE Boulby - " Would the June application be a full planning application with full public consultation, and what about the licence when it expires?"
CF - "A full application will be submitted in June along with a full public consultation process to erect new buildings, the buildings are going to be 'huge' for refining and processing of polyhalite .... we will be drawing up a PPA with Boulby and they also want to discuss with us their long term plans. Their licence runs out in 2023, it was only for 30 years. A full application will have to be made to continue the mine, due to the time this will take it we expect them to submit a full new planning application for the mine in 2020. So yes there will be full planning applications for both this June and also in 2020 along with full public consultations"
And that was the final question, so I managed to 'steal' some cake and sarnies for the journey home. nom nom nom
Overall it was a great meeting, such wonderful people in a beautiful setting. Just wished I lived in a Parish!