Church diocese hits back at criticism over Arkengarthdale school sale

Arkengarthdale C of E School after its closure.

A diocese has rejected claims it withheld information from community leaders during the sale of a former school.

Members of the Upper Dales Community Land Trust said they were not made aware in advance of a provision which would have allowed it to undercut other bidders for the Arkengarthdale School site.

The trust had hoped to buy the school site to create much-needed affordable housing.

In an open letter, the trust this week called on the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, to block an agreed sale to a commercial developer on the basis it should have been informed in advance that it needed to register as a charity.

Members of Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council (PCC) were instructed they were legally bound to accept a £185,000 bid from a commercial developer for the school which was forced to close after pupil numbers fell to five.

The community trust said it was only informed by the PCC it could have sold to a registered charity for a lower price once its members had voted to accept the highest offer on church lawyers’ advice.

But the Diocese of Leeds has denied information was withheld from the community group.

A spokesperson said the Bishop of Leeds would be responding to the trust’s letter in due course.

They added: “At no stage was anything withheld from UDCLT as they have alleged.

“Moreover the offer letter from UDCLT expressly mentions the issue, saying that they had taken legal advice on whether the PCC was obliged to sell to the highest bidder.

“To now say they were not aware of the issue or that the PCC had not been open with them is simply not true.”

Stephen Stubbs, chair of the Upper Dales Community Land Trust, stood by the criticism.

He said: “Had the PCC been serious in wanting to find a way to sell to us, why did it not mention that as a charitable company our offer did not meet its criterion until AFTER it had agreed to the highest bid?

“Our offer document was lodged almost two months before they met to make the decision.

“Registering as a charity can be done in a matter of months and we would have been prepared to pay for the upkeep of the building in the interim.”

3 Comments

  1. What a shame! If the church PCC had just thought about the community they serve, and the need for affordable homes for local people, this situation need never have happened. Whatever the senior clerics say, this is not a good day for the C of E!

  2. There is a danger of a war of words developing, when what matters is doing the right thing.
    It is clear that if the owners wanted to sell to the UDCLT there were legal means that would allow them to do this. They have said as much.
    This still appears to be the case.
    This is not about winning an argument, it’s about putting our local community first.

  3. I fear the C of E has not done itself any favours over this, or indeed the closure of its Churches during the Pandemic.

Comments are closed.