The Story so far…
Earlier this year, Peterborough Diocese served notice on Titchmarsh Parochial Church Council (PCC) of its intention to sell a 10-year “development option” on 114 acres of Glebe Land between the A605 at Fisherman’s layby and Ranway. This most unwelcome news was said to have been triggered by a financial crisis at the diocese, caused largely by the covid-19 pandemic, however subsequent discussion with the diocese indicated that the intended sale is part of a longer term plan to “rebalance” the diocese’ investment portfolio. The property developer purchasing the option would be responsible for defining a development scheme and taking it through the statutory planning process. The Diocese envisages the site being developed into an industrial and logistics park.
At an emergency meeting on 19th July the PCC voted unanimously to formally object to the Diocese’ proposal in the strongest terms, recognising the potentially huge impact such a development would have on the life of the village community. Stephen Barber, Lay Chair of the PCC said, “We will be very robust in our response to Peterborough, but we also need to mobilise wider village support against this massively inappropriate proposal”.
In a subsequent discussion with diocese’ representatives on 29th July it became very clear that the Diocesan Board of Finance, which actually took the decision to sell the option, had made no serious attempt to assess the potential impact of industrial development of the glebe on Titchmarsh and its surrounding communities, or on the environment more generally.
Petition and Letter Writing Campaign
Following the diocese’ announcement, Titchmarsh mobilised to persuade the Bishop to reverse the decision! An online petition was launched and a letter writing campaign began.
At the time of writing almost 1,500 names have been added to the petition and the Diocese has been deluged with well over 150 letters. The PCC remains grateful to all those who took the time and effort to make the Bishop aware of their thoughts and feelings.
PCC Formal Representation
The PCC submitted its formal Representation to the Diocese on 13th August, within the 21-day notice period the diocese had allowed. This is available to download here. Please take a look! The Representation was to be considered by the Diocesan Board of Finance and its Glebe and Trusts sub-committee.
One more step along the way…
Clearly the strength of the arguments and concerns exhibited both in the Representation and in all the thoughtful letters to Bishop Donald had an impact, as the Diocesan Board of Finance asked the Bishop to give it guidance on how it and its Glebe and Trusts sub-committee might progress matters.
In early September Bishop Donald suggested that:
- the proposed sale should be put on hold pending a review of the environmental and social impact of the site’s development;
- the review should involve a new process, perhaps a new committee, within the DBF, to ensure such considerations are borne in mind when future land sales are being considered as well as for the Titchmarsh and Thrapston glebe land.
A Review is convened
After a long silence (and not a little prodding from Titchmarsh!), the diocese informed Titchmarsh PCC on 13th October that the review is being convened under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Brixworth, John Holbrook, who is effectively the Assistant Bishop of Peterborough. Interestingly, Bishop John spent a significant part of his early career working in small rural churches in the Salisbury Diocese, so he is (hopefully) no stranger to rural communities and their concerns. Bishop John has invited our Rector, Brian Withington, and churchwarden Stephen Barber, to present Titchmarsh PCC’s position to the review group on Thursday 29th October, a prospect Brian and Stephen are looking forward to as Titchmarsh’s case against the option sale is a strong one.
Questions Facing Bishop John’s Review
The Diocesan Board of Finance remains very concerned about the effect of covid-19 on its parish share receipts and believes that, unless its income can be strengthened in some way, its ability to send clergy out into the poorer parts of the diocese will be seriously undermined. Whilst the PCC understands the diocese’ concerns (being no stranger to financial pressures itself!) and would certainly not wish to see those who have most need of clergy support denied it, it is far from clear that an option sale and realignment of the diocese’ investment portfolio would offer any significant short-term relief from covid-19 related financial pressures.
It is pretty clear that the system under which clergy are funded and allocated has been creaking for some years and recently the diocese itself has been strongly promoting the “you must pay for what you get” message to parishes. As is happening in many other walks of life, perhaps covid-19 will (or should?) precipitate a more fundamental change in the way the church approaches these decisions?
To the PCC the central questions facing both diocese and parish are: the extent to which the husbandry of Creation (decarbonisation, air pollution reduction, other environmental protections, and conservation) and democratically derived decisions on land use (set out in the Local Plan) should be sacrificed to maintain the current volume and disposition of Church of England clergy; and whether the church of England’s answer to that question will damage or sustain its wider ministry?
The PCC hopes that Bishop John and his working group can find answers to these questions that both parish and diocese see as just, and aligned with all aspects of Christian mission.