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Leeds church sold to London flock for £1 now in peril

28 September 2012


A CHURCH with historic links to the Duchess of Cambridge's family is facing an uncertain future after being sold by the Church Commissioners for £1.

St John's, Roundhay, in a northern suburb of Leeds, has fallen into disrepair since it was sold, two years ago, to the Pentecostal City Mission, a small, London-based Evangelical church. The roof is leaking, and the churchyard has become overgrown. The cost of remedial work has been estimated at more than £100,000.

The Church Commissioners imposed a covenant on the property which required the new owners to maintain the fabric, but they have until 2015 to undertake the work.

The Mission's Leeds congregation is small, and they used the church for only a short time after taking over. They are now based in a former Methodist hall in the neighbouring Harehills district. The Mission's national movement, which is based in Leytonstone, in east London, has since fallen foul of the Charity Commissioners for failing to publish annual accounts for the past two years.

Its entry on the Charity Commission website has a red-box warning to potential donors about its undisclosed financial status. Its last set of accounts, for 2009, were not filed until this February - 739 days late. They show a deficit of £129 on a total income of £178,549 - less than half the previous year's income.

Leeds City Council is now considering stepping in to carry out basic repairs before the end of next month to avoid further damage this winter. The work, however, would not guarantee the building's long-term future.

St John's was opened in 1826 to serve the burgeoning population of Leeds, and included many of the city's civic and industrial leaders in its congregation. Among them was Francis Lupton, an alderman on Leeds Council, who died in 1921. His daughter, Olive, married Noel Middleton, a Leeds solicitor and the Duchess's paternal great-grandfather, in 1914.

A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said that they were in a difficult position as they had no powers to act until 2015. "We are in discussions with the Mission and are hopeful of a successful outcome," he said. "We cannot speculate what might happen if this has not been resolved by 2015.

"We had been given every indication and promise the churchyard would be a major priority, and its repair would be undertaken on transfer of the building. It is unfortunate things haven't progressed in the way we had hoped, and we had been told, they would."

He defended the original decision to sell to the Mission. "Continued Christian worship was by far the most suitable use for a former Anglican church. They had provided evidence of accounts and also provided a list of proposals planned for the church and churchyard. Given the information provided, the Church Commissioners were satisfied this was a suitable and viable use."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "The Pentecostal City Mission was late filing documents for years ending 2007, 2008, and 2009, and has so far failed to submit accounts or annual returns for the years 2009-10 or 2010-11.

"We have noted the charity's failure to file its annual documents and this is reflected on our website to inform the public and potential donors.

"We have written to the trustees on several occasions reminding them of their duties in this respect - five times in relation to their documents for financial year ended 31 March 2010, and four times in relation to their documents for financial year ended 31 March 2011. It is disappointing that the charity's trustees have so far failed to comply with their duties. We will continue to contact the charity in this respect.

"Where a charity fails to confirm it remains active, we may remove it from the public register if we are satisfied it does not possess any significant assets.

"No serious concerns have been raised with the Commission about the charity."

A Labour councillor for Roundhay on Leeds Council, Christine Macniven, said that an elderly resident had approached her after becoming distraught at the deterioration of the graveyard where his wife was buried. "It's a shocking state of affairs which can't be allowed to continue," she said.

Efforts to contact the Mission were unsuccessful. The number on its website for the Leeds Pastor - Light Brigade Linton - is a private line. The person who answered denied any connection with the church. Calls to the London HQ were either unanswered or met with a request to ring back. No messages were taken.


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