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Villagers dismayed at diocese's glebe proposals

07 August 2015

Jonathan Billinger

Dismay: St Peter's Church, in Willersey

Dismay: St Peter's Church, in Willersey

PARISHIONERS in a village in Gloucestershire have reacted with dismay to plans from the diocese of Gloucester to build up to 200 homes on glebe land around the church.

The Parochial Church Council of St Peter’s, Willersey, and a retired priest, Canon Anthony Harvey, who ministers at the church, have accused the diocese of failing to consult properly with the congregation or the village in general about the plans.

They argue that the village, having already agreed to 70 new homes in a District Council plan with scope for 70 more, cannot cope with any additional development.

Representatives from the PCC were called to a meeting with the diocesan secretary, Benjamin Preece Smith, in July. At the meeting, they were told that the diocese had been considering development on glebe land for several months.

The plans call for 100 homes to be built on land east of the church. Members of the PCC also said that during the meeting Mr Preece Smith had indicated that he hoped to sell another parcel of diocesan land in Willersey as soon as possible, which could facilitate the building of a further 100 homes.

Canon Harvey, a former sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, lives in Willersey, which is home to about 800 people. “The additional imposition of 100 new dwellings, in addition to those already earmarked, would destroy the essential character of the community,” he said.

The PCC wrote to the incoming Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, asking her to intervene with Mr Preece Smith. “We put it to him, several times, that he was only concerned with financial benefits to the Diocese administration and not with any other factors concerning the community at large. Several times, he agreed!” they wrote.

In a statement, a spokesman for the diocese said that the PCC had been told about the planned development in May, and had not objected. But one of the churchwardens, Robert McNeil-Wilson, said that the initial notification had referred only to land north of the church; but the development would take place on land to the east. He also said that the notification was vague and did not make the scale of the proposed construction obvious. “It’s an absolutely foolish place to be developing, and it will change the . . . village.”

The diocesan spokesman said that they had to think practically about how to grow the Church. “These funds are vital to ensure the continued life of the Church. We are currently exploring planning permission: it is not in our gift to enforce development; that decision lies with the planning authorities.”

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