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New framework for Yorkshire proposed

02 November 2012

THE dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield should be abolished and replaced by a new "diocese of Leeds", a draft scheme published by the Dioceses Commission suggests.

The draft scheme, published on Monday, creates a new framework that would enable a new diocese - which could also be known as the "diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales" - to be created. It suggests that it be presided over by a diocesan "Bishop of Leeds".

The draft scheme proposes that the new diocese be divided into five episcopal areas - Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon, and Wakefield - each with its own area bishop. The diocesan Bishop of Leeds would also be bishop for the Leeds area. The draft scheme does not provide for the creation of the episcopal areas, however: it would be up to the new diocese to create them.

The new diocese would have five archdeaconries: Bradford; Leeds; Richmond and Craven (equating to the Ripon episcopal area); Halifax, (equating to the Huddersfield episcopal area); and Pontefract (equating to the Wakefield episcopal area).

Each of diocese's cathedrals would be retained on a "co-equal basis", and Leeds Parish Church, which is known as Leeds Minster, would be designated as a "pro-cathedral".

The draft scheme predicts that "significant financial savings" could be made "as more efficient working practices are developed across the new diocese in areas such as 'back office' and administrations functions". The money saved could be invested in mission and "protecting, or even reducing, parish share".

The draft scheme was published after a six-month consultation period, during which 100 submissions were made. The Commission's proposals have been debated for almost two years, since it reported that "the existing configuration of the dioceses in West Yorkshire is no longer appropriate for the Church's mission and not sustainable into the future" ( News, 10 December 2010).

In the foreword to the draft scheme, the chairman of the Commission, Professor Michael Clarke, wrote that the proposals "are very much a response to what we heard from those on the ground, and are emphatically not to be regarded as a template for reorganisation schemes elsewhere".

A "Preparation Group" had been set up, he said, "consisting of representatives of the Bishops' Councils of the three dioceses", and a Programme Manager had been appointed "to help co-ordinate the transition process".

The draft scheme will be voted on by each diocesan synod in March. It does not technically have to be endorsed by the diocesan synods to be put before the General Synod. Professor Clarke said, however: "We hope that the diocesan synods will approve the scheme and take up the challenge of developing their vision for the new diocese. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity which we believe must not be lost."

The earliest the draft scheme could be put before the General Synod is July 2013, meaning that the earliest that the proposals would be implemented is autumn 2013.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that the smaller episcopal areas proposed in the draft scheme "would bring a greater sense of belonging and local identity". The "day-to-day life" of parishes in the new diocese would be "strengthened by increased strategic resourcing; for example, we'd all have access to a greater range of expertise and experience. I am convinced we would be more than the sum of our parts."

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, welcomed "the way the Commission has emphasised the mission opportunities which the new diocese will present". He was "particularly pleased that the parishes of the city of Leeds will come together in a single episcopal area, as this will enhance our ministry to the whole city".

The response of the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, who said last month that "it is far from clear . . . that what we need is fewer, larger dioceses" ( News, 14 September), was less emphatic. He said: "The publication of this report ends the uncertainty about the precise recommendations of the Commission and we are very grateful for that. We now look forward to a lively and informed debate within all three dioceses as we prepare for the final vote on these proposals."

www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/dioceses-commission/ yorkshire.aspx

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