Railway realism

RUTH Annison (D&S Times, Feb 2) bemoans the sale of Aysgarth Station, on the basis that this now jeopardises the chances of the Wensleydale Railway reaching Garsdale, thus completing a 40-mile link from Northallerton to the Settle and Carlisle route. This is perhaps a good moment to bring a dose of reality to the debate, and hopefully moderate unrealistic expectations.

The railway closed as a through route to passengers in the 1950s. It couldn't make money then as a public transport system, and it certainly could not today with the significant increase in private car ownership in the area.

Much is made by supporters of the idea of its potential as a strategic cross country through-route, but this is not supported by any officially endorsed data or political aspiration.

It is this laudable but unrealistic notion that the railway should be a public transport system, giving an alternative travel option to car and bus users, that has bedevilled the railway since its re-birth in 2003.

From the very beginning the railway lost money. The consequence of promoting a public transport system was that regular timetabled trains had to be operated. These by and large ran empty, and the railway lost over £1.3m in its first six years. Large scale staff layoffs inevitably followed. Allied to the grossly one-sided lease from Network Rail, which requires the railway fully to maintain 22 miles of track at vast expense in order to ensure MOD freight trains can operate to/from Redmire (which have not run for several years!) then one can see the railway's operating expenses could never be matched by its income potential.

The railway's current board and trust are quite clear that we must give the public what they want today, not what we thought they wanted 15 years ago.

The key to our survival is to offer a predominantly steam operated heritage service, focussing on the staggering beauty of the landscape, and enhancing the travel experience with quality on-board catering and special events.

We are putting our money where our mouth is and have already started a number of major initiatives.

The key point is this: the railway's board and trust must do all that they can to develop a quality heritage operation and bring large numbers of visitors to the area both to enjoy the train experience and to spend money locally.

Completely unachievable aspirations to run a 40-mile public service railway when we can't even afford the current line are a massive distraction, and it would be most helpful if the few people who cling on to this ambition could now recognise the new paradigm, and get behind us. If we fail in this then there will be no Wensleydale Railway to extend.

Steve Davies, Director, Wensleydale Railway plc

Second homes

AFTER reading some of last week’s letters on the issue of a council tax rise for second homes in the Yorkshire Dales, I had the feeling that some of your correspondents failed to understand the nature of the housing problem facing local people.

This crisis has been building up for 30 years. Every attempt by the National Park, local authorities, parish councils and others to do something about it has proved virtually futile in the face of the extraordinary neglect paid to homes and housing by successive governments.

I remember a time, not so long ago, when everyone in the Dales, regardless of their income, had the opportunity of finding a home here, whether owning it or renting it from the local authorities. So please don’t tell us that the main problem is low incomes: the main problem has always been high prices and the disappearance of housing which people could afford to rent and where they had sufficient security of tenure to be able to call somewhere their home.

So while several writers pride themselves on the money they bring into the Dales, they should be concerned that those local services might not always be there for them or anyone else to use if more and more local people are unable to find a home of their own.

Perhaps those people from afar who, in opposing the latest local attempt to alleviate the adverse impact of second homes, have belatedly found an interest in local housing problems could channel their outrage positively.

They could ensure that when they write to ministers and their own MPs they also press the case for government to take long overdue meaningful action to relieve such an inequitable situation.

Nigel Watson, Leyburn

Real question

IN reply to the author of the letter Moral Question (D&S Times, Feb 2) the real moral question is why people object to affordable housing being built near them? Everyone knows that it was a person of a very blue tinge (Mrs Thatcher) in 1980 who created the right-to-buy scheme which is still running today. One assumes with Richmondshire being one of the safest seats in the land that the overwhelming majority agreed with the principle.

However for nearly the 40 years both Tory/ Labour governments and councils have failed to provide adequate provision for people on lower wages usually living and working locally, basically creating the mess that we are in today.

No one can blame the families buying their council houses at discounted rates but why were they not replaced?

Regarding homelessness - it is partly to blame on the Single Payment Scheme introduced by Ian Duncan Smith. It is so slow regarding payments that more people are being forced on to the streets.

Our population is now up to 66.6m which is and has been unsustainable socially with again both Tory/ Labour devoid of any adequate infrastructure plans to support both the immigrant and resident population.

The proposal by the National Park hasn't been thought through, already second home owners pay 90pc of council tax and don't get value for it. It surely has to be choice if a person can afford it then the British choice of freedom comes in to play. Much local work has been created by these people. Indeed the local building companies have thrived over the past few years so they do boost the economy and provide work. Ironically if the proposed 500pc rise is passed then some villages will become even more unaffordable.

I don't know where large empty houses are going to spring up? The prices of most houses in the Dales are already unaffordable to local workers and that is not likely to change so how is the proposal to work? We have been unaffected until recently re housing but London and the South East have faced this problem for 30 years.

My daughter, who lives and works in central London, pays over half her salary on rent and the waiting list for a council house is over 10 years. It is a landlord’s dream.

So I think the moral question is will local villages/ National Park object to social/ affordable housing being built near them? One assumes the letter contributor has no such qualms?

John H. Nuttall, Leyburn

Cause to grieve

IN his latest edict on council tax hikes for second home owners, Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, states: “If the proposal results in some second homes being brought back into full-time occupancy then everyone who loves the Dales will have cause to celebrate.”

When local builders, tradespeople and other businesses whose very survival depends on second homes are forced out with their families then everyone who loves the Dales will have cause to grieve.

Paul Stokes, Swaledale

Maths question

I WONDER if anyone else has found it odd to read three individual items in last week’s issue?

The first was a front page statement that council tax to the value of £544,000 could be generated across Hambleton by bringing back into use 1,100 empty homes of unspecified tax band charge.

The second, on page three, said councillors approve a target of 10,000 homes for the Darlington area which set me thinking about the total of new homes that have been approved, of late, in Hambleton, and in the areas NYCC covers, as a whole. I pondered on how much council tax that would generate.

And then on page 16, to cap it all, I find that there is to be nearly 5 per cent rise added to North Yorkshire council tax rates bringing D band charges to £1,248 pa plus the cost of police, fire, and district council services which have alone added over £30pafor green waste collection recently.

Is anyone better informed or better at maths than me?

P Duggan, Osmotherley

Parking call

When are Northallerton Town Council and Hambleton planners going to improve the car parking arrangements in Northallerton?

Starting at the new Police headquarters and radiating outwards, the residential roads now have cars parked nose to tail on many days of the week. These are narrow roads and now have no room for two cars to pass and no room for carers/health visitors/ ambulances etc to park anywhere near their patients, elderly or not.

Why not use the old prison site for a multi-storey car park with concessionary pass for regular users?

Where do the "powers that be" think the people buying the new houses north of Northallerton are going to shop?

Probably take the easier route to Darlington and take advantage of the three hours free multi-storey car parking next to Sainsbury on the southern edge of Darlington.

E Tyndall, Northallerton

Road safety

REVERSING arrows are needed on the side, at the rear end of all vehicles.

They are especially needed when reversing onto a road from a parking space, as we can be blind to the road because of a high vehicle parked next to us.

Cameras and sensors are a great help but they are expensive and can increase our insurance premiums.

Builders etc with long vehicles would have more confidence with the arrows flashing as they reverse too.

It is an idea that I would like to see happen asap.

Christina Rea, Hutton Rudby

School rankings

WE read a lot about the north-south divide in secondary education, but in the educationally-disadvantaged north, the north east is bottom of the class.

The DfE no longer ranks schools according to raw examination results at 16-plus but also measures progress pupils have made between Key Stage Two and GCSE.

A negative score for a school indicates that insufficient progress has been made and, sadly, in the North-East, when the results are averaged, not one authority achieves a positive score. Locally, Middlesbrough and Stockton are “best” equal with -0.09, Darlington and Hartlepool come third and fourth with -0.23 and -0.28, respectively, whilst my own authority, Redcar & Cleveland, sadly, comes fifth with -0.31 (and in the bottom three regionally).

Despite isolated success stories, like Bydales Outwood Academy, in Marske, we have fallen behind, not only the south, but the rest of the north. Massive investment is needed to negate social deprivation.

Northern Powerhouse Partnership vice-chairman Lord Jim O’Neill says schools need “sorting out”. When it comes to “sorting”, let us be first in the queue.

Clle Steve Kay, Moorsholm

Speed limit

I SEE in the press that chief constable of West Mercia, Anthony Bangham, has put forward a proposal that all motorists exceeding the speed limit by one mph should be fined and have points on the licence. As I understand it all domestic vehicles had a speedometer discrepancy of 10pc either way especially on older vehicles with cable driven heads.

Many years ago I worked in the vehicle workshop of a police force and after each major service we had to rolling-road test the speedometer for accuracy and on all panda vehicles and vans 10pc was allowed any more and rectification work had to be carried out.

The only vehicles with 100pc accuracy were the traffic patrol cars which had certified accurate speedos by the instrument manufacturer.

I suggest that this is the latest ploy by the police to get more money out of motorists.

C.P.Atkinson, Great Ayton

Running plea

WE are urging everyone to lace up for the world’s largest half-marathon – the Great North Run – to help the UK’s largest meningitis charity beat the deadly disease.

Meningitis Now wants anyone lucky enough to secure a place to tread through Tyneside on Sunday 9 September for us, while the unlucky ones can grab one of our guaranteed Golden Bond places.

Full support will be given for the 13.1-mile challenge. Our runners receive a free running vest or T-shirt, a handy information pack with tips on how to prepare and an invite to our post-race reception with refreshments and complimentary sports massage.

By running for us you’ll be helping to fight meningitis with every stride and move us one step closer to our vision of a future where no one in the UK dies from meningitis and everyone affected gets the support they need.

Last year our runners collectively raised a fantastic £34,635.41 – we are so proud of you all for taking on this tough yet rewarding challenge. This year we’d like to do even better.

Sadly, meningitis and septicaemia continue to affect thousands of people in the UK and kill more under-5s than any other infectious disease. Help us fight back on all fronts by funding research to eradicate the disease, raising awareness and supporting survivors.

To find out more and sign up email michaelai@meningitisnow.org or call 01453-768000.

Michaela Ifill, Meningitis Now