Archbishop of Canterbury asked to intervene to save Dales affordable homes scheme

The former Arkengarthdale Primary School.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been asked to intervene over a bid to turn a former Dales schools into affordable homes.

Community leaders have written to Justin Welby over the sale of Arkengarthdale C of E Primary School, in Langthwaite, which was forced to close a year ago after the number of pupils fell to just five.

The premises, bought from retired Army Colonel Guy Greville Wilson by Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council for £325 in 1933, was put on the open market two months ago.

A proposal by the not-for-profit charitable Upper Dales Community Land Trust (UDCLT) to create three two-bedroom and one one-bedroom homes for young families has gained widespread support.

It is backed by Arkengarthdale Parish Council, the Yorkshire Dales National Parks Authority and Richmondshire District Council which pledged £150,000 from its affordable housing fund to buy the site based on an independent valuation.

However, Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council is accepting an offer of £185,000 from an undisclosed buyer after its lay members were told they had a legal duty under charity law to sell to the highest bidder.

Stephen Stubbs, 61, chairman of UDCLT, who was a pupil at the school, said: “The Church has taken a legal view but not considered its moral obligation to the people of Arkengarthdale. The school was bought through local people for the benefit of local people.

“We are extremely concerned. The school building is the last chance to provide affordable housing to secure a more sustainable and brighter future for the community of Arkengarthdale.

“The decision seems to contradict the aims of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commission to examine housing, church and community, which states ‘We have land and resources that can be used to help meet the need for more affordable housing’.

In this case, it appears his vision to encourage and actively help affordable housing to be created from their estate is not borne out by reality as the exact opposite is happening, with his prophecy being sacrificed in the interests of short-term profit.”

Arkengarthdale parish has seen a 14% decline in its population in seven years to 199 residents, 64% who are aged over 60 compared to the national average of 24%.

Only 14% are under the age of 30 compared to 37% across England.

According to the last Census in 2011, 69 of its 174 households were occupied full-time, the remainder either holiday-lets or second homes. In the past two years there have been eight sales at an average £363,200.

Yvonne Peacock, a North Yorkshire County and Richmondshire District councillor and member of the UDCLT, said: “Without homes for our local families how can our Dales have a sustainable future? We need people to live and work in Arkengarthdale to support our businesses, farming and tourism.

“I am so very disappointed our offer to purchase the school was rejected. Our proposal provided an ideal way forward to provide affordable homes and preserve a community for future generations.”

Mr Stubbs, who is also Chairman of Arkengarthdale Parish Council, has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury in his appeal to Church authorities to review the case.

“We had hoped that after last year’s devastating floods and the current Covid restrictions, Arkengarthdale and indeed the Dales in general would have some good news, a sort of flood/Covid resurgence story,” he added.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when establishing his commission, said the purpose of housing should be understood as building homes and communities.

Vicar Rev Caroline Hewlett, who is on the Parochial Church Council said they had really struggled and looked at every possibility to try to sell to the local trust but had no choice.

“We were bound by charity law.

“We are well aware of the problems of housing in the Dales and tried everything but our hands were tied.

“We are very supportive of what the trust wants to do and looked to see if there were ways round it but we are bound to take the highest price.”


1 Comment

  1. Does the PCC really HAVE TO SELL the property? Why don’t they lease the land to the Community Land Trust and support the development of affordable homes. They could work in partnership with rather than against the local community. Is the PCC really a charity, or just an exempt religious body under HMRC classification?

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