A DISPUTED decision by the Church Commissioners to move the
residence of the Bishop of Bath & Wells from the historic
Palace in Wells has been overturned by the Archbishops'
The announcement follows a campaign of opposition to the move by
the diocese, the Palace Trust, and the MP for Wells, Tessa Munt,
who presented a petition signed by 2000 people to the House of
Commons earlier this year.
The announcement was made on Thursday of last week, by a
committee that had been appointed by the Archbishops' Council to
review the objection to the move made by the diocese's Bishop's
Council earlier this year (News, 28 March).
The Church Commissioners, who announced the proposed move in
December last year (News,
31 January), had failed to satisfy the committee that the
decision to move the Bishop was the right one.
The Bishop will now continue an 800-year-old tradition by living
in the Palace.
The Church Commissioners were reprimanded by the committee: the
consultation had been flawed, it said, and public discontent
hadbeen "exacerbated" by the Commissioners' response to it.
Last week, the chief executive of the Palace Trust, Rosie
Martin, said: "This reversal of such a major decision is unheard
of. . . There is a palpable sense of excitement."
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, was
appointed in December, and will be enthroned in June. Last week, he
said that the disagreement over his future home had been "quite
difficult", but he was "wholly committed to my new ministry".
He said: "The Palace will be at the heart of my ministry as the
place where I study, pray, and work, alongside the Bishop of
Taunton. I'm very privileged, and look forward to working with the
trustees and all those who work hard to make the Palace such a
wonderful place to be."
Ms Munt said: "I'm absolutely delighted that the Archbishops'
Council has been just and fair, and made a common-sense decision
which will be welcomed and supported by the whole diocese. The city
of Wells will give a collective jump for joy, and can't wait to
welcome the new Bishop and his family to his house in the
The committee appointed by the Archbishops' Council comprised
Mary Chapman, Philip Fletcher, and the Archdeacon of Rochdale, the
Ven. Cherry Vann. They met on Monday and Tuesday of last week, in
Wells, to hear the objection to the Church Commissioners' decision.
This was the first time that such an objection had been raised
under section 7 of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service)
Opposition to the Commissioners was voiced at the General Synod
meeting earlier this year (Synod, 21 February), during which the
Third Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Mackie, was told that the
matter had become a "débâcle".
The Church Commissioners reiterated the argument that the move
was designed to ensure the new Bishop's privacy, and that he should
not be "encumbered or restricted by being housed in a place with a
high level of public access".
They had planned that the Bishop should live in the Old Rectory,
Croscombe, which they bought for £870,000 earlier this year. It was
sold in 2007 by the diocese of Bath & Wells for £750,000. In
February, Mr Mackie argued that this was "not £870,000 that has
been frittered away never to return, that could be used on other
things. It's an investment."
No decision about the future of the Old Rectory has yet been
made. The statement from the committee on Thursday of last week
said that it "cannot be considered as providing accommodation which
is reasonably suitable as a residence for the Bishop, even on a
temporary basis". The committee's main objection was that it was
not in Wells.
The committee did not agree, however, with those who had
criticised the purchase of the Old Rectory as "representing poor
value for money. . . We accept the Commissioners' assertion that it
represents an attractive investment asset."
The committee's ruling says that the Commissioners' concerns
about the Bishop's privacy at the Palace were "significantly
overstated". It is critical of the Commissioners' approach to
consultation: "A proper recognition of the needs of the Church and
the wider community in the diocese should have led them to carry
out a wider and earlier consultation exercise in the present case.
We were surprised that the Bishop's Council was not involved in
such consultation as was carried out."
It also notes: "The level of public discontent has been
exacerbated because the Commissioners felt unable to declare from
the outset the reasons for their decision."
The committee has emphasised, however, that the decision should
not form a precedent.
"Whilst very few diocesan bishops still live in a historic
palace, we had a strong sense that it was important to the city and
the diocese more widely that the Bishop should at least live within
the community of Wells and be seen to go about it. . . We would not
wish this particular set of circumstances to be taken as a pattern
for any future such cases."
The overwhelming majority of diocesan bishops do not live in
palaces. In recent years, the Bishops of Worcester, Carlisle, and
Durham have all been moved from their historic residences.