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