THE Parochial Church Council of Chetwode, in Buckinghamshire, is seeking “a substantial endowment” from the promoters of the High Speed Two (HS2) rail link between London and the West Midlands.
In a petition to the House of Lords select committee examining the route (News, 27 May), the PCC said that the prospect of HS2 running through the village was leading to “the depopulation of the parish”, and that this would have the effect of “drastically reducing the size of the congregation and the source of funds on which [it] depends”.
They argued that “the loss of members of the Parochial Church Council and reduction in congregation inevitably results in a consequential crippling reduction in income. If this reduction in members means that those remaining are no longer sufficiently numerous and invested in the future of the Church, then the Church cannot continue to exist as a community organisation caring for its members and preserving its place of worship. The closure of the church then becomes a necessity.”
St Mary and St Nicolas’s, Chetwode, a 900-year-old Grade I listed building, contains one of England’s three oldest stained-glass windows.
“Chetwode and the church have always stood together,” a member of the PCC, Charlie Clare, said earlier this month as he gave evidence to the committee. “The church is 12th century, and was part of the original priory that the village grew up around. Since the very earliest days of England, the community of Chetwode has supported the church and the church has been the magnetic pull that has bonded the community.”
He asked the committee to “consider our request that could easily be imposed on the promoter and would safeguard this important building and its future. Our request is that the church is given a financial endowment that would generate an income to cover future maintenance.” He said that by doing so, the promoter would be “protecting the building against the adverse effects of the line”.
The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Stephen Croft, supported the petition. He told the committee that “when a church building cannot be maintained by its own community, there is regrettably no alternative but closure”.
He continued: “It seems likely that the execution of the plans will lead to more households’ relocating. And even when the houses are occupied again, after the construction of the line, the relationship of the parish church with the residents of the parish, which is organic and deep, will have been severely dislocated, and will take time to be repaired.”
But the lead counsel for the Department for Transport, Timothy Mould QC, said that it was too early to consider whether an endowment was needed. “It is possible to be over-fearful of the risk of prolonged and long-term depopulation, or indeed of a lack of interest on behalf of newcomers into the village after the railway has completely been constructed, taking no interest in church activities,” he said.
“I have no doubt at all that there will be a core of existing families, many of whom, as you’ve heard, have been in this settlement for generations, who will remain and will remain at the forefront and at the heart of the community’s desire to maintain the church as its centre, and that they will be very active . . . in encouraging newcomers to join them in that.”
Earlier, Mike Allen, a church warden and the treasurer of St Mary’s, Twyford, in Buckinghamshire, argued that his church could be made “unusable for most services” without the construction of “sufficient acoustic barriers.”
The Grade I listed church dates from before the year 1200, and is located 250 metres from the centre of the new line. “Let’s be honest: despite the facts and figures quoted, which do not make much sense to the general public, excluding the construction phase, no one will really know the long-term impact for ten to 12 years,” he told the committee. “However, one thing is for sure: the peace and tranquillity of our wonderful building, so cherished by churchgoers and visitors alike, will be lost for ever.”
They are asking for assurances of noise abatement measures similar to those promised to the parish of Wendover (News, 12 February), and the creation of “a long-term locally held fund to pay for any future repair work necessitated by the use of the line.”
Last week, the committee heard that the promoter will pay up to £500,000 towards the cost of a new “drop-off facility” and extra car parking at Great Missenden C of E Combined School. Mr Mould told Peers that HS2 “sees the advantage . . . of providing that facility so as to ease congestion, and to provide a safe drop-off zone for pupils during the construction of the railway.”