YHA urged to halt hostels sell-off

Two hostels facing the axe under a series of closures planned by the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) may get last-minute statutory funding to keep them open.

The news follows a high-profile intervention by the Ramblers Association and a concerted campaign by local MPs and communities who say the closures will devastate local rural economies.

Last month, the YHA announced that 10 youth hostels would be sold, many in national parks or near national trails, in order to help the organisation make up a £4million deficit caused by the foot-and-mouth crisis. But early this month, the Ramblers Association passed an emergency resolution urging the YHA to "do everything possible" to find alternative hostel bed space to prevent gaps appearing in the network.

The Ramblers Association's general council also urged local authorities and regional development agencies to help the YHA invest in budget accommodation in rural areas.

The YHA has now agreed to put closure plans on hold while talks continue to save two youth hostels in Dufton in Cumbria and Aysgarth in Wensleydale.

Representatives from local town and county councils, tourist boards, the Countryside Agency and regional development agencies will meet this week to see if extra cash - possibly Rural Action Zone funding - can be found to prevent the hostels being closed.

But YHA chief executive Roger Clarke made it clear that extra money to modernise the hostels would not solve the YHA's financial problems. He said: "We needed money from the sales - our target was to save £4 million. We have no other reserves."

He added that £1.5 million Government cash for the YHA was intended for reinvestment in the network and that it was not meant to compensate for income the organisation lost last year.

Campaigners against the closures are angry that there was no consultation with members or local people before the announcement in March.

Ray Walker, a resident of Dufton, said: "They've chosen to recoup losses from foot and mouth by closing a hostel in an area that was badly hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis. It's a double whammy for the area. The post office and pub in the village would close if the hostel were sold, he said.

Clarke said a possible solution would be for the YHA to sell the properties but keep the hostel beds in the area. "If they could give us a building or a lease on favourable terms then we could realise the assets but stay in the area," he said.

The YHA plans to open seven new hostels in the course of next year. These will be mainly in the south of England.

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