THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has been forced to personally intervene in a bitter dispute over plans to build 75 houses on Church land.
A row broke out over the summer between the diocese of Gloucester and the village of Willersey, where the diocese hopes to build the homes on ten acres of glebe land near St Peter’s church (News, 7 August).
In an attempt to calm tensions, Bishop Treweek, who is also the Church of England’s first female diocesan bishop, called a public meeting to discuss the plans. Around 200 people attended, a spokeswoman for the diocese said last week.
“The point of the meeting was to hear what people had to say and to have the opportunity to ask questions. And for us to explain what the situation was,” she said. Normally an archdeacon would represent the diocese at such a meeting, but the spokeswoman said Bishop Treweek wanted to lead the meeting herself.
The opposition to the diocese’s building proposals were heard loud and clear, she also said. “The reality is that they don’t want any more houses in their village. What we heard from them quite strongly is that.”
Feelings in Willersey have run so high that Bishop Treweek has been sent hate mail and rotten food in the post, although the spokeswoman said that they believed the food may have been edible when it was posted.
However, the diocese rejected any suggestions that they may have been too hasty in pushing for the development prior to Bishop Treweek’s arrival in September. “I don’t think we would accept that mistakes were made,” the spokeswoman said. “In how we did things we did it to the book. We haven’t tried to cover anything up.”
The diocese would, however, “review communications” as it was clear that many of those in Willersey did not understand the legal process of developing on glebe land.
Members of the parochial church council at St Peter’s insist that while a letter giving formal notification of the diocese’s proposals was sent, it was so vague that they did not realise what was in store and failed to notify the diocese of their objections in time.
Canon Anthony Harvey, a former sub-dean of Westminster Abbey who now occasionally ministers at St Peter’s, said last that Bishop Treweek’s meeting had helped to clear the air. “By the end of the meeting there was a lot of respect shown to the bishop,” he said. “She made it very clear that she had come to listen to what people wanted to say and to clarify.
“There were some questions from the floor that weren’t total courteous and someone did say your staff are a disgrace, but otherwise it was a civilised discussion.”
Canon Harvey also said that Bishop Treweek made it clear she had understood the villagers’ objections and would reconsider. Willersey has already agreed with the county council to build dozens of new homes, Canon Harvey said.
“There is absolutely no ‘nimbyism’ here, but there are lots of reasons why there can’t be more than 100 houses built here,” he said. “It would alter the character of the village.
The diocesan spokeswoman said that no final decision had been made on whether to go ahead with the 75 houses. Bishop Treweek was “keen to move forward” quickly, but it was impossible to say when the diocese would come to decision.