Affordable homes plans in disarray as Methodists vote to sell empty chapels

Under the hammer: Bainbridge Methodist Chapel built in 1836.

By Betsy Everett

Three empty chapels in the upper Dales are set to be sold on the open market after local Methodists gave up a three-year struggle to convert them to affordable homes.

Opposition to the plans has come from the church’s own headquarters property division, who fear the “affordability” and local occupancy clauses, a condition of planning permission and local authority grants, would devalue the buildings.

They have refused to sign off the flagship Bainbridge project, despite having given tens of thousands of pounds towards the conversion which was supposed to set a nationwide standard for similar redundant places of worship.

The North Yorkshire Dales Methodist Circuit has now finally voted to sell the Bainbridge, Aysgarth and Middleham chapels “as soon as possible.”

Ninety minutes before the online circuit meeting began, the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes (TMCP), based in Manchester, confirmed in an email that they had not resolved the problem within the deadline set by the local circuit, and said the matter would now be passed to the legal division.

Angry: local preacher Geoff Phillips has resigned in protest.

Within hours local preacher Geoff Phillips resigned from the circuit and its property committee, saying he would no longer be responsible for monitoring the deteriorating chapel in Bainbridge which is at the centre of the controversy.

“I and other members of the committee had recommended simply returning the deeds and the keys to the TMCP and abrogating all responsibility. In the end the circuit voted to sell this and the other two chapels in Aysgarth and Middleham,” said Mr Phillips, a preacher for more than 20 years and a “cradle Methodist.”

“I cannot be part of a bureaucratic structure that is so clearly working against the ethos of the  church, which is to support those in need in our communities.”

When the TMCP originally opposed the conversion of the Bainbridge chapel earlier this year, Mr Phillips said he was “beyond angry” at the suggestion that providing affordable housing could affect the future value of the property.

“If that is the case, then every conversion of every chapel in the country is threatened. Methodism was born out of social action and I am appalled at the total lack of joined-up thinking between the bureaucrats and the members on the ground. There have been so many reports from headquarters highlighting the national housing crisis and asking us what we think the solution might be.”

Last year another arm of the Methodist Church made a grant of £78,500 to the project to convert the empty Bainbridge chapel, and Methodist Insurance gave a further £40,000 only in June –  after the property division had refused to sign off the project.

It had been hailed as a “blueprint” for chapel conversions throughout the country when the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority granted planning permission, subject to a 106 agreement, restricting rental of affordable homes to local people. Next on the list if the Bainbridge conversion had gone ahead, were similar schemes at Aysgarth and Middleham chapels, both of which will now be sold, said Mr Phillips.

A grant of £150,000 from Richmondshire District Council, awarded under the government’s community-led housing scheme to the Bainbridge project, stipulating that the homes have to be low-cost and rented “in perpetuity,” may now have to be forfeited. The circuit has already spent £50,000 on stripping the Bainbridge chapel of asbestos which, according to a report to the circuit had left the building – unused for three years – vulnerable to water ingress, weather damage, and “rapid deterioration.”

In a national Methodist Church report last spring, “Responding to the Housing and Homelessness Crisis,” local synods were challenged to identify housing needs in their own area, and asked: “Are there ways in which your churches might provide affordable housing, perhaps by redeveloping redundant buildings or excess land?”

The report criticised the “increasingly commercial culture around house building,” which offered “few incentives to build genuinely affordable housing necessary to cope with the current shortage.”

Asbestos stripping has left the building vulnerable.
Geoff Phillips led the final service in Bainbridge three years ago.

2 Comments

  1. As with the Arkengarthdale C of E school sale, the lack of empathy from church and chapel leaders over these lost opportunities for affordable homes is staggering. In all the dialogue over the school for instance, not once did I hear any of them express their sorrow over the dashed hopes of the local people who could have had an affordable home.
    If we can’t rely on these people to support our communities then it is a very sad state of affairs indeed

  2. I am so sorry to read this article. I used to worship in that Circuit. I have left the Methodist Circuit in which I live (a Derbyshire area) because of Circuit mal practice.
    In fact I have no desire to be part of any organised religion because of the way they
    chop and change to suit whoever is in charge.
    I will remain a Christian and worship God with like minded friends.
    I applaud Geoff Phillip’s decision to resign from this inept organisation.

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