Vil­lagers send bishop rot­ten meat in protest at build­ing plan for church land

Daily Mail - - News - By Mario Led­with

AF­TER cut­ting her teeth in Lon­don’s tough­est neigh­bour­hoods, the coun­try’s most se­nior fe­male bishop may have thought her new post in ru­ral Eng­land would mean a qui­eter life.

But only weeks af­ter be­ing ap­pointed, the Right Rev Rachel Tre­week has be­come an un­likely hate fig­ure in a Cotswolds vil­lage af­ter be­ing ac­cused of bro­ker­ing a con­tro­ver­sial land deal.

The Bishop of Glouces­ter has been sent hate mail, in­clud­ing rot­ten meat, from fu­ri­ous res­i­dents of Willersey who say plans to build hun­dreds of houses on

‘Walked into a hor­nets’ nest’

church land will ‘ de­stroy’ the vil­lage. Lo­cals have ac­cused her of ‘get­ting into bed’ with a con­tro­ver­sial land de­vel­oper af­ter it was re­vealed the church agreed to sell off land in a multi-mil­lion-pound deal be­fore con­sult­ing res­i­dents.

Willersey has a pop­u­la­tion of 816 and res­i­dents say a huge num­ber of in­com­ers would warp its unique char­ac­ter and po­ten­tially dou­ble its size. They fear lo­cal ser­vices such as the school – which can ac­com­mo­date only 50 chil­dren – will be over­whelmed.

Mrs Tre­week walked into ‘a hor­nets’ nest’ when she agreed to meet lo­cals ear­lier this week. She faced a bar­rage of crit­i­cism as 200 res­i­dents squeezed into the vil­lage hall to ask why the church had failed to con­sult them be­fore ne­go­ti­a­tions with Glad­man De­vel­op­ments.

The con­tro­versy in­volves a 35-site – known as Ter­rify by lo­cals – which bor­ders the vil­lage’s cen­tre and is owned by the Dio­cese of Glouces­ter and the parish church. The huge plot could fetch up to £3mil­lion if the de­vel­op­ers gain plan­ning per­mis­sion, with Glad­man said to be plan­ning an ini­tial batch of 75 homes.

But res­i­dent and cross­bench peer Lord Dear, who is spear­head­ing a cam­paign to pre­vent any land-build­ing, said the de­vel­oper had re­vealed wishes to in­crease the num­ber of houses to 350.

The former chief con­sta­ble of West Mid­lands Po­lice, who has lived in the vil­lage for 15 years, said Glad­man em­ployed ‘ag­gres­sive’ tac­tics to push through con­tro­ver­sial schemes.

He said the church risked at­tract­ing ‘se­ri­ous rep­u­ta­tional dam­age’ af­ter claim­ing of­fi­cials re­fused to fol­low guid­ance that says lo­cals should be ac­tively con­sulted about the sale of church land. ‘There is very strong ev­i­dence to say they con­cealed ev­i­dence that they were go­ing to sell the land,’ he added. ‘We dis­cov­ered it al­most by ac­ci­dent.’

Rob McNeil-Wil­son, Ukip can­di­date for the Cotswolds, ac­cused mem­bers of the dio­cese of ‘get­ting into bed with a ra­pa­cious de­vel­op­ment part­ner’.

Tim Prestage, a neigh­bour­hood watch co- or­di­na­tor, said: ‘It is a prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion.

‘We do not have a doc­tor and we have a tiny school which can take about 50 chil­dren. We are not geared up for this at all. Ul­ti­mately, we are an area of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty and a tourist spot. Peo­ple won’t come here if all they can see is houses.’

Church of­fi­cials is­sued a no­tice rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of de­vel­op­ing the land ear­lier this year and call- ing for ob­jec­tions to be raised. But cam­paign­ers said the no­tice, de­scribed as ‘highly tech­ni­cal’, was not widely pub­lished to lo­cals.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Ge­of­frey Clifton-Brown said: ‘I be­lieve that the way this process has been con­ducted has been less than sat­is­fac­tory.

Mrs Tre­week, 52, told this week’s meet­ing that she did ‘not want to over-house the vil­lage’ and also con­firmed that ‘no sale has been signed and sealed’.

She said she ap­pre­ci­ated hear­ing peo­ple’s ‘anger and frus­tra­tion’ but added that some of the anony­mous emails were not ‘par­tic­u­larly pleas­ant’.

A spokesman for the bishop said a ran­cid leg of lamb and a par­cel con­tain­ing rot­ting plums were sent anony­mously to her of­fice in Glouces­ter this week.

Con­tro­versy: The Right Rev Rachel Tre­week

New homes: The land the church is try­ing to sell to de­vel­op­ers

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