PCC Meeting with Diocese’ Representatives on 29th July
On Wednesday evening 29th July the 9 members of St Mary’s Parochial Church Council (PCC), including Rector Brian, met with Gordon Steele, Archdeacon of Oakham, and Michael Appleton from Carter Jonas (the Diocese’ land agents). Gordon and Michael were representing the Peterborough Diocesan Board of Finance (PDBF) and had come to answer the PCC’s questions regarding the scheme and to explain the Diocese’ rationale in pursuing the option sale.
It was an interesting, generally good-tempered meeting, though members of the PCC did explain their position with considerable passion!
Despite an earlier Diocese’ briefing largely blaming Covid-19 for the decision to sell the development option, Archdeacon Gordon explained that the main reason for the proposed sale is pursuit of a long-term investment strategy aimed at reducing the Diocese’ portfolio of agricultural land. Such land yields safe but low returns, and the Diocese wants to rebalance its portfolio towards higher return investments. The Diocese’ financial position is likely to worsen because of the impact of Covid-19, and because a glebe land housing scheme on Kettering’s western fringe is not yielding the returns originally envisaged (the latter because of unanticipated geological problems at the site). Whilst the PCC appreciated the Diocese’ dilemma, it was not clear to what extent the sale of a 10-year development option would help resolve the Diocese’ short-term cash crisis.
The PCC questioned the sale and development process and it was clear from the responses that if PDBF decides to confirm its decision to proceed with the sale – and Heads of Terms have been drawn up and are ready to be signed – then church and village will be at the mercy of the civil planning process. If and when the option sale is formalised the PDBF will effectively “wash its hands” concerning the nature of the development.
The PCC expressed outrage that the Diocese has carried out no local consultation and has presented the PCC with what looks like a fait accompli. The PCC pointed out that the Diocese’ proposal is inconsistent with both the Local Plan and broader planning policy.
Changes in the law made in 2018 mean that the PCC’s consent to a sale is no longer required. The PCC’s formal representations will be considered by PDBF, the same body that is promoting the scheme, and the PCC will have no further right of appeal through church channels. So far as the PCC could ascertain PDBF has taken absolutely no account of the impact on the local church and community. The PCC expressed the view that this represents a dereliction of the PDBF’s duty and a failure of pastoral care.
Whilst, from the perspective of Peterborough, the sale proposal may look rational and strategic, it does not look that way from Titchmarsh. The PCC will make the strongest representations but it is more important than ever that letters are written to the Bishop expressing personal views and concerns. If you haven’t written yet please make your voice heard and help us to persuade the Diocese to reverse its decision.
Churchwarden and PCC Lay Chair
St Mary’s Church, Titchmarsh