By Andrew Fagg
A defining moment for the Yorkshire Dales National Park came on 11 April 1989, nearly three months after then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher received a letter from Dales businesses.
On that day the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon, quietly conducted a U-turn. He announced in a ‘written answer’ that he had decided ‘to refuse closure consent’ for the Settle-Carlisle railway. Cheers rang out across the Dales.
Mr Channon said one of the reasons for his decision was ‘new evidence on… the line’s importance to the local economy’. Thirty years later, I have that evidence in my hands. It is a scrapbook containing the voices of Dales business men and women, which had been delivered by hand to 10 Downing Street.
The scrapbook – eventually recovered from Downing Street – is a loan from Ruth Annison of Hawes Ropemakers. In 1989 she was the Chairman of the ‘Settle-Carlisle Railway Business Liaison Group’ and was one of a group of nine people to go to Number 10 in the January of that year.
“The Prime Minister was out, but we were invited in to hand over our evidence,” she said. “A small problem was that we also had a basket of goodies, containing Dales produce such as cheese, fudges, soaps and preserves. The police asked how they could be sure there wasn’t a bomb hidden inside the cheese. I said we could get a knife to cut it open but the idea of a knife was even worse than the idea of a bomb.”
“What we were able to do as a business group was to highlight the loss of business and employment, if the Settle-Carlisle line were to close,” said Mrs Annison. She and a large group of volunteers gathered together supportive statements from dozens of businesses which benefitted from the line.
Some of the businesses, including hoteliers and retailers, went into great detail about how they would be affected by line closure. Others kept it short and sweet.
“The 30 year anniversary is really important. It’s been a generation since the reprieve. The decision on the Settle-Carlisle line was regarded as the first reversal of British Rail closure policies. The campaign to keep it open was international by the end,” said Mrs Annison.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Chief Executive David Butterworth added: “The reprieve for the Settle-Carlisle line was a huge moment for the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The line brings considerable economic, transport and environmental benefits to the National Park.
“Five stations lie within the National Park – Kirkby Stephen, Garsdale, Dent, Ribblehead, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale – while Settle station lies just outside the boundary. It means that residents can have days out to market towns, while tourists can visit, without the need for a car. It’s a heritage attraction, too, as well as a working railway; the line’s marvellous infrastructure has become an integral part of a landscape loved the world over.”