Diocese accused of 'washing its hands' over impact of East Northants land sale

The land between Titchmarsh and Thrapston has been optioned for ten years for development

Friday, 4th December 2020, 11:12 am
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 11:16 am

The chairman of an East Northamptonshire church council has slammed the Peterborough Diocesan Board of Finance (PDBF) decision to put up village glebe for sale.

At a meeting last week, the board voted to proceed with the sale of a development option on 114 acres - about the size of 86 football pitches - of glebe farmland in the parish of Titchmarsh.

Income from glebe land, which is owned by the church, was traditionally used to pay the living costs and wages of local clergymen.

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In mid-July, the nine-strong St Mary's Parochial Church Council (PCC) in Titchmarsh had been informed of the sale of land with a ten-year 'development option'.

At a subsequent emergency meeting on July 19, the PCC voted unanimously to formally object to the diocese’s proposal but it was unable to block the move because of a change in ecclesiastical law that came into force in 2018.

Stephen Barber, lay chair of the Parochial Church council, said: "I believe Bishop Donald’s (The Rt Revd Donald Allister- Bishop of Peterborough) review process was fundamentally flawed.

"We have seen no proper terms of reference, evaluation criteria, or a concluding report. The diocese has not answered a single one of the strong arguments we made against the sale.

The A605 at the bottom of the photograph forms one boundary, with the existing Haldan's Parkway to the right of the picture. The land earmarked for the development reaches up to 'Islington' - a lane leading from Titchmarsh

"Frankly, it makes the PCC suspicious that the sale deal had been signed before the review even started.

"In making its decision the diocese again focuses entirely on the financial equation – picking up its 30 pieces of silver and washing its hands of any impact on local communities and mission."

The PCC’s objections were considered by the Diocesan Glebe Committee before the final decision was made to proceed with the option sale was made by the PDBF.

A PCC spokesman said: “Through its decision to appoint IM Properties to formulate a scheme and attempt to take it through planning process, the diocese has abrogated its responsibilities to the local church and wider community, and has ridden roughshod over established Church of England policy.

The land earmarked for the development option stretches from the A605 between Thrapston to Titchmarsh

"In reaching its decision the diocese has not answered any of the PCC’s arguments."

Objections by the PCC to the proposal included the 'serious detrimental impact' on the mission of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Titchmarsh; that the sale would 'seriously damage the reputation of the Anglican Church' as the proposal 'does not comply with the church’s own policies on local mission, environmental concerns, and climate change'; the site not being identified for development in any local plans; an increase in traffic and pollution, and resulting coalescence between Titchmarsh and Thrapston 'in contravention of established rural planning policy'.

The PCC had previously sold nine acres of land to Siaca in Halden's Parkway to extend their factory after looking at the environmental impact.

Mr Barber added: "The diocese says the sale proceeds might in part fund clergy posts in deprived areas: but who’s going to be convinced by a church that has little or no regard for its own policies and its existing communities?"

The A605 roundabout - junction with Oundle Road at the bottom of the photo forms one boundary, with the existing Haldan's Parkway to the right of the picture. The land earmarked for the development reaches up to 'Islington' - a lane leading from Titchmarsh

A spokesman from the Diocese of Peterborough said: "The Board of Finance has a duty to manage the glebe portfolio solely for the benefit of the Stipends Fund, which supports ministry across the whole diocese.

"Following representations from the Parochial Church Councils of Thrapston and Titchmarsh, the Diocesan Board of Finance reviewed the proposed sale of an option/promotion agreement of land in those parishes.

"The outcome of the review was a recommendation to proceed with the sale, and to reinforce that the promoter should refer to the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Policy throughout the various phases of the development of both sites until final completion.

"The Board also asks the promoter to manifest sensitivity towards the communities of Thrapston and Titchmarsh in any development proposals which are submitted for planning approval.

"The Board also noted that the promoter will need to deliver net gain for biodiversity in taking this matter forward."

A drone shot of the land