A publicly-funded body dedicated to conservation has defended pursuing a proposal to move from its grade II listed headquarters to a more cost-effective purpose-built centre.

North York Moors National Park Authority chief executive Tom Hind rejected some residents’ claim the body was setting a bad example of abdicating responsibility for maintaining cultural heritage in the 1,436sq km protected area between Scarborough, Thirsk and Teesside.

Mr Hind was speaking after members of the authority, who include councillors and experts appointed by the Government, gave the green light behind closed doors to developing a full business case to move from its grade II listed base in Helmsley on the grounds the historic Old Vicarage, in Bondgate, had become too costly to maintain.

Following the decision, the authority wrote to residents to explain it had recently bought land at the southern end of Riccal Drive, sold another property beside its Bondgate HQ and was “considering the viability of a modestly sized HQ building” there.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The grade II listed Old Vicarage in Bondgate, Helmsley Picture: LDRS

The letter stated: “Our current headquarters building at the Old Vicarage is bigger than we need, requires significant investment and no longer provides the best working environment for our staff.”

It added its ranger depot in Sawmill Lane requires significant investment owing to extensive dilapidation, and that the authority was very keen to stay in Helmsley, provide employment and continue to contribute to the local economy.

The letter stated: “We think that a well-designed building in this location will enhance the site and provide a low intensity employment use on this allocated site which will fit in well with the surrounding residential uses.”

Mr Hind said a small number of residents had raised concerns in response to the letter and that just under 100 staff would be based at the proposed centre, but they would not all be there at the same time due to working patterns.

One resident, whose name is withheld, said neighbours were particularly concerned about moving traffic from the main road through the town to the Riccal Drive area, they felt it was “a bit rich” for a body with a first purpose of maintaining cultural heritage to claim maintaining a listed building was too costly.

The resident stated: “It’s going to be difficult for the park authority, which has for years insisted heritage property owners spend whatever it costs to maintain heritage, to claim others should be doing so when they do not appear to want to. It feels hypocritical.”

In response, Mr Hind said the land on Riccal Drive had been allocated for employment use on the Local Plan and any development there would generate traffic.

Mr Hind said the Old Vicarage had served its purpose, but was not the most appropriate working environment for the next 20 or 30 years of the authority’s life and that it would require significant investment to bring it up to scratch.

He added: “It is an important heritage asset in Helmsley, but the question really is whether we or somebody else would do a better job in looking after it in the long run. The evidence so far points towards we would be better returning it for the use for which it was intended – it was built as a vicarage.

“Our working patterns have changed. There are fewer cars coming to Helmsley every day because we operate a blended working pattern for our head office staff. We want to work with residents to find a way to minimise disruption as far as possible.

“The idea of co-locating our southern ranger depot and our head office into a purpose-built setting would not only create a better working environment that brings our staff together but also would be more cost-effective for the organisation in the long-run, rather than try to make do and mend with what we have got.

“From my point of view as a chief executive it is important that we are cost-effective in how we run the organisation, and that includes making sure we have cost-effective premises to work out of.

“It’s also about creating a work environment that brings the best out of the workforce that brings people together. At the moment our rangers are separate from our office team which isn’t ideal.”

Mr Hind declined to give an estimate of the cost of the proposed move.