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Leeds diocese at centre of dispute over future of ‘landmark’ spire

06 May 2022

Alamy

The Grade II listed Victorian spire and clock tower are all that remain of St Mary’s, in inner south Leeds: the former parish church of the Hunslet, pictured here in 2019

The Grade II listed Victorian spire and clock tower are all that remain of St Mary’s, in inner south Leeds: the former parish churc...

DIOCESAN leaders in Leeds are at the centre of a dispute over the fate of a Victorian church spire that is a feature of the city skyline.

St Mary’s was once the parish church of the Hunslet, in inner south Leeds, but today only the Grade II listed Victorian tower and spire remain, since the main building was demolished in 2019 owing to subsidence.

Ambitious plans were developed for the spire, the city’s tallest, to become the centrepiece of a £2-million sheltered-housing complex for the elderly, but negotiations to sell the site to Leeds City Council have stalled. Meanwhile, local residents are fearful that the tower is falling into disrepair, and could face demolition. It has been fenced off, and they have been barred from laying wreaths at its war memorial.

A delegation from the Hunslet Carr Residents Association has met city councillors to demand action. Kenny Saunders, who chairs the group, told them: “Hunslet without its spire would be like Blackpool without its tower. To lose it would be a massive landmark gone. You can see it for miles.

“Residents are very angry about the deterioration and the mess of the land immediately adjacent, including the war memorial. It is very distressing and concerning. One of the tower buttresses has been removed and needs replacing to comply with its listed status. Vegetation is growing out of the stonework, windows have been broken, and there is now water ingress.”

He said that the residents' request for permission to tidy the site was refused by the diocese. “As the years go by, time will not be on our side,” he said. “Six years is long enough, and action is needed now. We do not want the structure to deteriorate to such a point that the diocese come back and say it is not economically viable to repair, and needs to be demolished, and consequently another historic Hunslet landmark is taken away from our proud community.”

Negotiations have been slowed by a dispute over who should pay for a survey of the graveyard, amid fears that it still contains burials dating back to medieval times, and disagreement over the valuation of the church’s former vicarage.

Elizabeth Nash, a Hunslet Ward councillor and the authority’s heritage champion, said that she intended to press the council to take enforcement action. “After six years, there is no wonder that the community is concerned. The spire has been left in limbo, but this cannot continue, as repairs are needed.”

A diocesan spokesman said: “This is a complex situation, given the important status of the site. The diocese is working collaboratively with Leeds Council to achieve the best outcome for the community. We remain committed to ensuring the site is developed for community use. As part of the work, essential structural and archaeological reports are being prepared.

“Meanwhile, safety inspections take place every four months. The last inspection, in February 2022, showed no significant changes to the building, and nothing considered to be of major concern. According to that report, no urgent repairs are necessary at this stage.”

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