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Letters to the Editor

24 August 2018


Let councils tackle housing needs

From Mr Richard Darlington

Sir, — I am glad that the Bishop of Manchester is raising the issue of social housing up the political agenda (News, 17 August). My own experience in this field is that I was a local-government architect, first with the London County Council in 1962, then Skelmersdale New Town, Nairobi City Council, Derby County Borough, and finally with Cambridge City Council.

In Derby, I was a team leader designing council estates in 1970-72. It was there that we had to mothball the main estate we were designing because the waiting list for council housing had dried up! We understood that this was also the situation at Coventry.

Soon after that, Right to Buy came along, with the large discounts, which, to my mind, are immoral. The houses were built with taxpayers’ money, and giving large discounts is giving it away. Right to Buy may be fine if the houses are sold at market value.

Since those days, the local-government facility to build houses has been decimated. Then, we had our estates departments that procured the land, a legal department that did the conveyancing, the treasurer’s department that sorted out the finances, and the architects and engineers who designed the building construction and prepared the contract documents. It was a well-oiled process

Now councils have to put all that out to private firms, which means getting tenders for even the design stages, etc., let alone the construction. There is no way that councils have a chance of producing the numbers that are required. Housing associations are the nearest to managing it, but even then the larger ones are rarely local, and so lack the local knowledge that councils had at their fingertips.

So my recommendations are:

1. that tenants wishing to buy their social-housing property should have a much-reduced discount, preferably no discount; and

2. that councils be empowered to set up the staffing needed to start building council housing again as we used to after the war.

1 The Woods, Grotton
Oldham OL4 4LP

National church policy after Pickwell judgment

From the Chair of the Church Buildings Council

Sir, — In response to the letter (17 August) on the Pickwell roofing judgment, I am writing in my capacity as Chair of the Church Buildings Council to address concerns that current policies are not flexible or up to date.

Our national work on the issues of metal theft has always had two sides: one trying to prevent the thefts in the first place, through legislation, working with the Government and with the police; and the other to support churches that are victims of lead-theft.

The Church was a partner in bringing in the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act. This was effective at removing a great deal of small-scale metal theft from churches. There has been a large drop in the number of cases. We now believe, however, that there are issues going on that were not identified in 2013, and for this reason the All Party Parliamentary Group on metal and stone theft is reconvening in the autumn.

The national Church will be represented there, ensuring the issue of thefts from churches is adequately understood. We also work closely with the National Police Chiefs Council metal-theft task force. In particular, we are now pressing for more research into how the stolen lead is disposed of. This is a key question, especially bearing in mind that the biggest market for roofing lead in the world is in the UK.

The Church Buildings Council, like Historic England, has guidance in place that fully accepts metals other than lead for roofs on historic church buildings, and does not insist that lead be replaced with lead. This has been true for a number of years. Our primary concern is that churches are able to recover from theft and continue to be open and welcoming places.

In addition, Chancellors are alive to the problems of lead-theft, and emergency faculties can be issued very quickly for temporary coverings; to improve this further, Council officers are currently work ing with dioceses to produce a short, handy guide to applying for one.

With regard to non-metal roof coverings, the Church Buildings Council and Historic England currently do not recommend polymer composite roofs, primarily because they are not designed for old buildings with pitched roofs. Polymers have to be fitted to a fixed substrate, which isn’t desirable on buildings that flex, as most stone-built churches will.

The lack of longevity of these roofs, which offer only a ten-year guarantee and a potential 20-year lifespan, sets up issues of future generations who will not have the benefit of insurance payouts to cover the cost of roof-replacement. We are not simply making an aesthetic argument and forcing everyone to suffer it. At present, expert research shows that there are good reasons for not recommending this material for historic churches, although on modern builds, and especially flat roofs, it can be entirely appropriate.

We continue to engage with parishes and dioceses on this issue, to keep up to date with the latest research and to assess our guidance in the light of it. The villains here are those who steal the lead in the first place, and our efforts will continue to go towards preventing thefts through national legislation and policy.

Church Buildings Council
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Bishop on fence over Franklin Graham visit

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — Franklin Graham advertisements have been banned from Blackpool buses (News, 20 July). Blackpool Transport responded to LGBTI objections and acted to avoid “heightened tension”. What a contrast with the Bishop of Blackburn’s Senior Staff, who have made no response to clergy and others who are seriously alarmed about Mr Graham’s views and public statements.

Mr Graham is due to speak at Blackpool Winter Gardens next month at the invitation of local churches. He is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, attributing his election to “the hand of God”, and has frequently denounced Muslims, homosexuals, the former President Barack Obama, gun-control advocates, and atheists.

Back in 2015 in the US, a group of church leaders led by Jim Wallis wrote an open letter to Mr Graham, criticising his Facebook posts about the killing of young black men by police. They described his comments as “crude, insensitive, and paternalistic”. The letter was signed by more than 30 Christian leaders of various traditions.

Last December, several MPs, including a government minister, urged the then Home Secretary to consider refusing Mr Graham UK entry. There were suggestions that his comments contravened British laws on hate speech. A petition against Mr Graham’s being granted a visa is still gathering signatures, and now has more than 8200.

Meanwhile in Blackpool, Canon Andrew Sage, of St Stephen on the Cliffs, and the Revd Tracy Charnock, of Holy Trinity, South Shore, wrote to the Bishop of Blackburn. They drew attention to Mr Graham’s extreme Islamophobic utterances, and said: “we are so nervous about this proposed visit and the damage it would do.”

They also referred to a radio interview in which the Bishop said that he was sitting firmly on the fence. They suggested that his silence, along with that of his senior staff, could be seen only as support for Mr Graham.

The Bible is very critical of those who sit on the fence (ask the Laodiceans). It is not too late for the Bishop of Blackburn to take heed.

242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

Build alliances in knife- and gun-crime hotspots

Sir, — The efforts of Southwark, London, and Chelmsford dioceses enabling parishes to be part of the answer to the upsurge in knife crime (Comment, 17 August) are to be commended and, I hope, emulated. Any credence given to the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, however, must be balanced by local action, advocacy, and partnership in our streets and neighbourhoods.

Birmingham also has a reputation for knife and gun crime, and here, too, gang culture casts its pernicious shadow. After a particular upsurge in violent crime, parishes partnered with local mosques, a gurdwara, Pentecostal churches, and local councillors to stage a regular walk of witness under the banner “Say No to Gun and Knife Crime”. Such gestures would not have an impact on the young men of violence (though one can pray that they might), but show the wider community that we are in solidarity with them and taking a public stand against the rising tide of senseless violence.

We must not overlook the ways in which violent crime can stigmatise and demoralise areas of our cities: neighbourhoods where good people are trying to live decent lives and raise families in the shadow of this menace. Parishes that join with other faith groups and community organisations to form anti-knife and gun alliances can bring some hope to those areas and their residents, who often feel helpless and powerless to effect change.

Team Rector, Kings Norton Team Ministry
Parish Office
81 The Green
Birmingham B38 8RU

New category of licence for the retired clergy

From the Revd Janet Robbins
Sir, — The Revd Dexter Bracey (Letters, 17 August) makes a strong case for the licensing of active retired clergy.

In a diocesan newsletter, published this June, I read that the Bishop is setting up a new licensed ministry, to be known as NSM(AR), where AR stands for Active Retired. “Any retired cleric under the age of 80 will soon be able to apply to be licensed as an NSM(AR).”

I wonder whether other bishops have in mind moving towards a similar new category of ordained licensed ministry in their dioceses?

I am sure that clergy moving to a different diocese will act on the Revd George Day’s encouragement to give permission for their names to be passed on to their new diocese, and be grateful for the welcome of the Bishop’s Retired Clergy Officer there, and also for, as in Exeter diocese, helpful information, intended especially for them, on the diocesan website.

While some clergy, after long, busy stipendiary careers, may fear being “pounced on to take services”, surely the six-month break is widely ac­­cepted, and they can say no.

Others, like me, with shorter, NSM experiences of ministry may be de­­lighted to be “pounced on”!

Gothic House, 48 Bridge Street
Pershore, Worcestershire WR10 1AT

Review Smyth case, but not just ‘lessons learnt’

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, C of E lead bishop on safeguarding, in the statement he issued on 12 August after news of the death of John Smyth QC in Cape Town, said that it was “important now that those organisations linked with this case work together to look at a ‘lessons learnt’ review” (News, 17 August).

The Ruston report, now in the public domain after the Channel 4 documentary in February 2017, shows clearly that the criminal offences of malicious wounding and assault occasioning actual bodily harm committed by Smyth — namely, the beatings administered by Smyth in his garden shed — were known to the Iwerne Trustees in 1982. Instead of being reported to the police at the time, as they should have been, Smyth was effectively banished to Zimbabwe, where he was able to resume his abuse.

The lesson to be learned from the failure to report Smyth’s criminal abuse in and after 1982 (what, effectively, amounts to a cover-up) is surely obvious: never again must those who know of or suspect abuse of the kind perpetrated by Smyth fail to report it to the police or the appropriate authorities, whether out of intended kindness to the victims, mistaken or perverted theology, or concern to avoid reputational damage.

Sadly, Smyth cannot now face justice in a temporal court. Bishop Hancock is right to seek a review, but its focus should not be a “lessons learnt” review: rather, it should be one that enables those survivors of Smyth’s abuse who wish to do so to speak about their experiences, and also one where those responsible for the cover-up (in particular, those Iwerne Trust and Titus Trust trustees who are still alive) explain what they knew and when, and offer apologies for their conduct over the past 30-plus years,

Member of the General Synod
20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU

From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — Yet again we are seeing a disreputable attempt to fasten the wicked actions of the late John Smyth on to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, this time by Andrew Brown (Press, 17 August). I wish that Mr Brown had read the statement by the Bishop of Guildford, one of Smyth’s victims, before making such a preposterous statement.

If the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement means anything at all, it means that our sins are completely paid for by Jesus’s death on the cross; it is no accident that those who believe this theory are often strong in their support for the Prayer Book communion service, with its declaration of “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world”.

I suspect, in fact, that Smyth only believed half of this theory, and that was, as it were, the wrong half: believing in the unworthiness of humanity, but not really accepting the totality of God’s forgiveness.

Surely it is obvious, or ought to be, that Smyth’s deeds were far more of a throwback to the medieval practices of self-mortification and flagellation than to anything that came out of the Reformation.

13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ

Experience of human trafficking from Albania

From Miss Primrose Peacock

Sir, — The feature on human trafficking (3 August) is informatively interesting. Poor Drita from Albania is typical of many females who have become prey for wicked gangs. At least 11 organisations with Albanian government support work hard to try to prevent this, or rehabilitate returned victims, who are then regarded as outcasts in their home communities (Google the subject). Foreign governments, including the UK, need to treat illegal immigration with greater diligence.

With 30 years’ Albanian experience and a large network of contacts, I know that female naïvety and/or greed is a problem. “Victims” often just refuse to listen to warnings. Some younger women also leave home of their own volition to “work” overseas and later return in shame.

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, religious orders, and some charities publicise the subject, but may be confronted by a wall of indifference. I encourage your readers to support the Salvation Army work.

4 Crescent Rise
Truro TR1 3ER

Synod wrongheaded about nuclear deterrent

From Professor Peter Davies

Sir, — It was with shock and disappointment that I read the debate about nuclear weapons and the passing of the motion calling for their elimination by 260 to 26 (General Synod, 13 July).

I owe my life to the thermonuclear explosions that took place in Japan in August 1945, as do hundreds of thousands of others, including many, many Japanese civilians.

My parents became engaged in 1941 while serving with the British Army in Hong Kong, my father as a chaplain and my mother as a nurse. On Christmas Day 1941, when the Japanese army invaded Hong Kong, they were captured and imprisoned in separate prisoner-of-war camps.

For about a year, neither knew that the other was alive. My grandmother actually received a telegram from the War Office to say that my father was missing, presumed killed. She even had an obituary published for him in the local paper.

Both survived, but not without repeated beatings, severe malnutrition, disease, and torture. By August 1945, both were slowly starving to death. Furthermore, Emperor Hirohito had decreed that the moment the first American boot landed on mainland Japan, all POWs were to be killed. Had the war dragged on even a few months more, either or both of my parents would have perished. Had it been necessary for the United States to invade mainland Japan, they would have been murdered.

The atomic explosions brought the war to a sudden end with the Japanese surrender. Hundreds of thousands of lives were spared, including those of both my parents.

Space does not permit me to raise the argument for their continuing deterrent effect or for the sheer impracticality of their elimination.

I have no idea whether my life is any kind of argument against the motion carried by the Synod, but I would suggest that the debate was extremely ill-informed. I hope that the Government notes the Synod motion and rejects it out of hand, as I am sure that it will.

11 Croft Drive West, Caldy
Wirral CH48 2JQ

Blow to public commitment to recycling plastics

From the Revd David Tyler

Sir, — I have been struck by the lack of outcry, given recent media reports that many of the plastics that we have sorted have gone to landfill or been incinerated (BBC News, 4 August). I find myself more surprised by the lack of outcry than the lack of recycling.

For years, many of us have been sorting plastics in the belief that they would be recycled, whereas it appears that current technology and the mix of polymers in many plastics is letting us down, and that much of what could be recycled is, in practice, not.

I wonder what will happen in the future now that this news has been publicised. Will people take less care to sort plastics, knowing that much of their sorting is in vain? My hope and prayer is that Christians especially will continue to recycle and encourage our local councils and Government to look for better ways to recycle more.

The Rectory, Long Hanborough
Witney OX29 8BT

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