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Bishop Throws Doubt On Cathedral’s Future Following Planning Rejection

Published on: 16 Feb, 2017
Updated on: 16 Feb, 2017

The Bishop of Guildford speaking at the planning meeting

The future of Guildford Cathedral is in doubt after rejection (last night February 15) of a planning application for 134 homes on the slopes of Stag Hill, on which the cathedral stands, despite a recommendation to grant permission from council planning officers.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Rev Andrew Watson, said: “The truth is this: that the cathedral faces the real possibility, in fact probability, of financial failure, of closing its doors, if this planning permission is not granted.”

The Dean of Guildford Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dianna Gwilliams, said: “There is no plan B, we welcome more than 90,000 people a year and the running cost of the building is immense.”

Guildford Borough Council’s planning officers wrote in their report that the cathedral has consistently run an annual deficit of £50,000 to £100,000.

Guildford Cathedral on Stag Hill.

Despite objections from those opposing the application, the financial position of the cathedral was deemed a proper factor for consideration. A council officer explained: “In relation to whether the creation of an endowment for the cathedral should be considered a material planning consideration… the endowment is considered as a public benefit and it will secure the optimum viable use of the Grade 2* listed building into the future.”

But Richard Vary, a judge speaking as a local resident, said: “It’s accepted that this development does not comply with planning guidelines: poorly laid out, lacking green space, less than optimal living environment, overlooking neighbours, significantly exceeding the Local Plan.

“This application… does not make the cathedral viable. The council’s head of financial services found the enabling sum to be £17.2 million. This scheme provides the cathedral with £2 million and an annual income of a few hundred thousand pounds. It falls well short. It is not viable.”

Plan showing the proposed development by Guildford Cathedral on Stag Hill.

Councillors from all parties joined Onslow ward councillors, Tony Phillips, David Goodwin and Adrian Chandler to speak against the application.

Council leader and lead councillor for planning, Paul Spooner (Con, Ash South & Tongham), supporting the application, said: “Gosh I am going to be a lone voice here, by the sound of it.

“Overall, I think that there are significant benefits to Guildford as a community, as well as housing need. I share concerns over affordability and it remains very close to me in terms of balancing but I will support the application as it stands.”

A motion to refuse the application was overwhelmingly supported with only three councillors voting against including council leader Spooner and his deputy Matthew Furniss.

Reacting to the decision, a spokesman for the cathedral told the Surrey Advertiser: “Clearly we are disappointed by the decision reached by GBC.

“As trustees, Guildford Cathedral Chapter have a responsibility to consider all options open to securing the cathedral’s long-term future.

“We will carefully consider the reasons for refusal before deciding the next steps.”

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test 14 Responses to Bishop Throws Doubt On Cathedral’s Future Following Planning Rejection

  1. John Robson Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 9:55 am

    The Lord works in mysterious ways…..

    I’m no financial adviser, but maybe in times of need the Church of England can dispose of some of the £3.2 billion worth of UK bonds and shares it currently owns.

    That should put a few slates on the roof.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    90,000 visitors all donating £2 per visit would give £180,000 per year giving a ‘profit’ of £80,000 in hard cash terms – a fiver would… yes you get the idea.

    Churches across the millennia have taken tithes why not re-introduce them?

    The money would roll in and solve the problem… are we talking of a business or simply a place of worship…

  3. Dave Middleton Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    If any other business (and the Church of England is run as a business these days, I’m sure) consistently ran at an annual loss of £50,000 to £100,000, its chief executive would be sacked, or the business would be closed down.

    The good bishop claims that it has a footfall of 90,000 people per year? Then charge them a “voluntary” donation of £2.00 a visit; that’s a quick £180,000 in the pot, from the people who actually use the establishment.

    If the bishop wants his cathedral to survive, he needs to get a grip and start to generate some proper, sustainable income, not just sell of bits of the estate piecemeal for short term gain.

    You can’t live indefinitely by selling off your existing assets, ask any competent businessman or country house owner.

    • John Payne Reply

      February 16, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      The government for years has been selling off its assets as a way forward. Whilst this proposal does not solve the absolute future of the cathedral it goes some way to helping find a solution which will give the cathedral some needed momentum in securing a better financial future.

      The Church of England is historically wealthy – but most of that wealth is tied up in land and property.

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    “There is no plan B.” Why not?

    To fail to plan is to plan to fail. They should have a plan B.

    What do they expect, the council to accept a non planning argument?

  5. John Payne Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    In reply to Ben Paton: that is exactly how the government operates!

  6. David Croft Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I think this application together with the Wood Street SANG application shows there is a great division of opinion between the Executive and the other councillors on the Planning Committee. Congratulations to the councillors for independent thought. It gives us electorate great comfort to know that you do not just follow the party line.

  7. David Smith Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Sounds like the Plan B is to re submit a new application. Many councillors suggested as much and almost appeared to invite a better proposal.

    The affordable housing was the main issue and the fact there was not enough in both quantity and ratio of affordable rent against shared ownership. I know what I would rather have living in that part of the town.

    I am shocked though that it was recommended for approval despite the numbers of social housing units failing to meet GBC policy requirements. The cathedral also shot itself in the foot by having a large number of dwellings in Cathedral Close – more than needed, it appeared.

  8. Mike Adams Reply

    February 16, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Well done GBC for throwing this out. The planning application should never have been made on the basis of financial viability for the cathedral, while at the same time trying to drive coach and horses through the normal planning guidelines.

    There should be no special treatment for religious organisations increasingly out of touch with the wider community.

  9. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    February 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    As I commented previously when this was first mooted, this is utter nonsense. Has there ever been a cathedral shut by the Chuch of England in history, other than by war or replacement? Are we really meant to believe that they are going to bolt the front door and walk away?

    Frankly, Rev. Watson is getting close to insulting my intelligence with this threat.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      February 18, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      The past ain’t necessarily a guide to the future. Whilst it might seem inconceivable, the tide has been going out on the CoE for decades.

      It might indeed take the shock of the closure of a cathedral to draw attention to the extent of the problem.

      Serious action is no doubt needed. Sadly building the wrong housing estate in the wrong place is not the solution to the church’s problems – or society’s.

      • Guy Sutlieff Reply

        February 20, 2017 at 11:44 am

        Possibly, but ultimately you would wonder what shutting it would mean?

        Would they just lock the doors and mothball the place until the council feel morally obliged to agree with their proposals? Or perhaps they would sell it off to be a restaurant or a giant laser quest arena? Or perhaps they could demolish it and build a park and ride car park with a cracking view?

        I’m not being flippant (well I am, I suppose). I know what Ben Paton is saying but I just cannot see it happening and, as others have said, why not charge £1.50 entrance to tourists etc. Many, if not most, C of E cathedrals seem to?

        • David Roberts Reply

          February 24, 2017 at 4:16 pm

          In a sense the cathedral already is a giant laser quest arena, isn’t it?

          I say pull it down.

  10. C Stevens Reply

    February 18, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    The Cathedral spokesman said: “As trustees, Guildford Cathedral Chapter have a responsibility to consider all options open to securing the cathedral’s long-term future.”

    Does he, or anyone from the cathedral, know how the chapter proposed to secure the long-term future of the cathedral when it was being planned and being built?

    I can’t imagine that the chapter sat down and said, well, fifty or so years from now doing a deal with a house builder will be the way to go. And we won’t need a plan B.

    Clearly not. So what was the plan to fund the continuing maintenance and running costs of the building as a place of worship? It’s inconceivable that there wasn’t such a plan.

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