THE diocese of Truro is facing a backlash from the Council and residents of the small village of Illogan, in Cornwall, after it sold land adjacent to the parish church and cemetery to housing developers.
The six-acre field attached to St Illogan Church had been marketed for about £700,000 in July, and an offer accepted last month. A spokesman for the diocese confirmed the sale in a statement on Monday.
It had been “legally obliged” to sell the field, he said, because it had “lain empty and been largely unused for many years”, and was unprofitable. The land has been sold to housing developers Kitchener, Land and Planning (KLP) who plan to create 33 homes on the site.
“The diocese’s land agent has on occasion been able to let the field for people to graze ponies, but it has not always been possible to find tenants, and there was an ongoing issue with complaints from residents about the field being unkempt,” he said.
“The Glebe Management Committee of the diocese is legally obliged to ensure that it obtains the best return from its assets to help pay for clergy stipends. Despite the occasional suggestion over the years as to how the land might be used, it has not been designated for any purpose.”
But Illogan Council disputed the statement. A spokeswoman said on Wednesday that more than 100 residents had opposed the plans. “Neither the Parish Council or members of the local parish church were consulted on this issue before the application was made. A request was made by the diocese to discuss their plans in private, but the Parish Council thought that such an important matter should be discussed in public.
“Over the years, many requests were made to the diocese by members of the Parish church and others, to develop this site in an environmentally friendly way for the use of the local community. All such requests were refused, and the site was left to deteriorate.”
A Facebook group set up by the Friends of Illogan in July to “promote awareness of a planning application made by Truro Diocesan Board of Finance for 33 dwellings on fields behind the vicarage” also denied that residents had complained about the state of the field.
A photograph of the field being mown was posted there last week, with a comment suggesting that it had previously been kept deliberately unkempt by the diocese until recently being put up for sale: “Today Truro Diocese have had the Glebe Field mowed again. . . it’s looking fantastic! Now why could they not have been doing this for the past three or so years, during which, according to them, locals have complained about the land being unkempt and of being an eye-sore?”
Other comments complain that selling the field was hypocritical of the Church of England since it promotes green policies to protect the environment.
A lecturer at Truro College and environmentalist, Andy Hughes, wrote: “The last space is to be filled in with houses — Church of England has no shame — and it is in direct contradiction to their own ‘green policy agenda’ is not worth the paper or web page its written on.”
A spokesman for the diocese said that complaints from the community had been acknowledged. “The diocese recognised that there was opposition to the scheme from some members of the community and suggested a meeting to enable both sides to reach a better understanding of the differing viewpoints. Despite offering six possible dates to the community representatives we were liaising with, none of those have been acceptable.”
But Illogan Parish Council said that the relationship between the community and the diocese had “broken down” over the proposed development.
“It would be safe to say our whole village was disappointed,” a spokeswoman said. “The Parish Council refused outlined planning permission as did Cornwall Council. Environmental issues have been ignored. Promises of meeting with the Diocesan Board were not fulfilled for a variety of reasons; the impression was that they were not keen to meet with the community.
“The dates offered were all at very short notice and some during the re-election period of the Parish Council. The diocese is reluctant to meet with the residents, but have only agreed to meet with representatives. This offer was only made after planning permission was granted.”
The concerns were raised at a planning meeting on Wednesday of last week. “Following our Planning Meeting last night the Committee would like to point out that the Diocese has had no direct communication with Illogan Parish Council in relation to the sale of the land,” she said. “The diocese did not notify us when they first advertised the land for sale and have not advised us that it has been sold. All the information we have has been received second hand.”