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Decision to call in housing scheme is ‘incomprehensible’ Bishop of Gloucester tells Gove

07 August 2023

HOLMES MILLER 

Plans by the architects Holmes Miller, for Shurdington Road, Leckhampton

Plans by the architects Holmes Miller, for Shurdington Road, Leckhampton

THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has criticised government intervention in a planned housing project on church land, describing it as “incomprehensible and utterly confusing”.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has called in the plans for 350 homes on church land at Leckhampton, south of Cheltenham, in Gloucester diocese. Forty per cent of the scheme is affordable homes, mainly for social rent from the Church Housing Association. Proceeds from the development would go towards other church-run social-housing projects.

In a letter to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, Bishop Treweek described the scheme as “completely uncontroversial and uncontested” as far as planners were concerned. She wrote that “We have received no explanation for what has happened and why you wish to continue to determine this decision,” and that she had been told that he intended to reject the plan.

Figures in the building industry suggest that the decision was political, and made to assuage Conservative MPs who fear opposition from voters: the MP for Cheltenham Alex Chalk, held a slim 981 majority over the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 election. “Given your strong commitment to levelling up and social mobility I am surprised at this suggestion,” Bishop Treweek wrote.

“This site would contribute not only to local alleviation of the housing crisis [but is also] in a perfect location for families to access the new high school.

“There is a substantial and widespread housing crisis in England which we, as the Church of England locally, are seeking to alleviate as best we can. This site would contribute not only to local alleviation of the housing crisis but it will also help fund the national work the church is doing to bring further alleviation in places as far away as Blackpool and Newham.”

The Liberal Democrat councillor for Leckhampton, Martin Horwood, who is also the council member for customer and regulatory services, said: “The original planning application was refused on climate-change grounds as its use of gas boilers did not support the council’s net-zero-carbon ambition by 2030. The applicant Holmes Miller has now revised their application to use solar panels and air-source heat pumps and overcome this objection.” There was, however, some opposition from residents near by on the grounds of potential traffic problems and the development of open fields.

The executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, Stewart Baseley, said: “This anti-development approach may be politically smart and curry favour with some backbench MPs, but it has obvious consequences for jobs and economic growth.”

A Housing Department source said that it was officials, not the Minister, who had called in the application. They had considered the appeal against published policy as set out in a ministerial statement and concluded that it was appropriate to recall the Independent Planning Inspector to prepare a report for Ministers to consider. As the case would go before Ministers for decision, it would not, the source said, be appropriate to comment further.

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