Fringe Box



Bishop Commented Cathedral Could Close Without Money From Stag Hill Development

Published on: 24 Dec, 2016
Updated on: 1 Jan, 2017

Bishop of Guildford

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, in a planning application comment sent in January (2016) to Guildford Borough Council (GBC), said that there is “every likelihood” that Guildford cathedral would have to close if a scheme to build 134 housing units, on land adjacent to the cathedral, does not to go ahead.

In his comment, written in support of the planning proposal, due to be considered in the new year, he writes: “Guildford is desperately short of housing, especially affordable housing. In my regular visits to schools in the town, as well as to the hospital, the council, the university and the Surrey constabulary, the lack of housing is mentioned every time as a problem for recruitment and retention.”

But the bishop also made it clear that the cathedral is banking on profit from the housing scheme for the cathedral’s very survival: “As a 20th century building it doesn’t have the historic resources of older cathedrals, and the sale of the land is vital to provide ongoing funding of the building and its maintenance. To put it bluntly, money is running out fast, and there is every likelihood that the building would have to close were this scheme not to go ahead.”

A computer generated image of how the development will look once constructed

Moving on to the impact of the closure he stated: “That would affect not just the diocese but Guildford, Surrey and the wider community. It would be a sad fate for the ‘People’s Cathedral’, built from bricks donated by many thousands of local people.”

The bishop explained that the green space around the cathedral should not be considered a “vital amenity”. He writes: “Although the green hill on which the cathedral is set is attractive, its setting between the A3 and the town doesn’t make it an obvious recreational area – and in my experience it’s seldom used as such. Guildford is blessed with some lovely countryside surrounding it, and the land around the cathedral isn’t, in any sense, a vital amenity.”

But an objector against the proposal, Richard Vary, said: “…there are no shops, doctors or schools in the development. It’s just high rise houses and flats.

In the education report on the planning website the conclusion is that local schools are already over capacity and the development will require local children to be bussed to schools outside Guildford.

“With lower density (like the Scholars walk development), houses set into the hillside rather than perched on it, and access directly from the cathedral roundabout as well as onto Ridgemount, it could work well. But the current plan is more Gotham City than City of God.”

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Responses to Bishop Commented Cathedral Could Close Without Money From Stag Hill Development

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    December 24, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Why on earth does the Bishop believe that his organisation is a special case meriting special treatment? The planning approval process is a quasi-judicial responsibility that is supposed to take into account planning arguments – not special pleas.

    Every planning application can be a ‘special case’. If a householder sought to persuade the planning authority that she should get an extension to her home for a bedroom for her child because otherwise they would have to move house, if the chief executive of Persimmon said that he needed permission for a new housing estate in order to meet the profit targets he had given his shareholders or if a factory owner said he would go bust if he could not build houses on his surplus land we all know these non planning arguments should not over-ride planning law.

    The problem is that Guildford Borough Council has politicised a judicial process by allowing applicants to present their applications using a careful selection of facts, or even false ‘facts’, which the council takes no responsibility for checking. And it applies the law through a lens that buys into the populist argument that there’s a housing shortage and that it should therefore do everything in its power to facilitate development- even disregarding planning law.

    So we have an applicant making a blatantly political appeal to support a planning application. The plight of he Church of England may be a sorry one. But that’s not an excuse for corrupting the planning system still further.

    If the Church were building social houses on its site, if it were keeping them in perpetuity and making them available to the needy, then it would be addressing a social need as well as a planning need.

    But it isn’t. Is it not just selling its land to a property developer that will sell all the homes for profit? The ‘affordable’ housing concept is bogus. There will be a once off discount on a proportion of the homes – which will have a fleeting effect and the houses will never thereafter be ‘affordable’.

    Property development is so profitable that developers happily sacrifice a little profit in order to get the deal done with the council. And how does one get to the front of the queue to buy the discounted houses?

    Planning arguments – such as building houses where there is infrastructure, such as building developments with housing densities in keeping with their neighbourhoods, such a building estates that posterity will be proud of, should count for more than the once off profits of the owner.

    Is the Bishop saying that the needs of his organisation rank above those of its neighbours and that the planning system should specially accommodate his needs and not theirs?

  2. David Wragg Reply

    December 24, 2016 at 10:56 am

    “Money is running out fast,” according to the Bishop. What worries me is that what will they do next when the money from this development has been spent? Certainly Guildford does not have the money of older cathedrals, but then again it does not have the heavy costs of maintaining an old building.

    Investing the funds from the sale of the property is difficult in the current financial climate with poor returns and low interest rates.

    • Martin Elliott Reply

      December 24, 2016 at 11:54 am

      Earlier this year, when the fact that part of the land was a bequest as a memorial to Canadian casualties in both World Wars, the funds were said to be used for direct repair/restoration and purchase of an endowment for continuing running costs.

      As has been pointed out, property has appeared as a risk free investment during the last few decades, but hands up those with an endowment mortgage. The returns now are extremely low unless risk is also taken.

      I notice both of these difficulties are not included in the Bishop’s comments.

  3. Dave Middleton Reply

    December 24, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Development of the small area of land notwithstanding, I ask:

    Would the closure of the cathedral really be such a huge loss to the community of Guildford, Christian or otherwise?

    Do we really need this huge edifice on the skyline of Guildford, visible for many miles in many directions?

    Could the money that the C of E spend on it’s upkeep not be better used among the smaller, more local, community based churches, scattered around Guildford, it’s suburbs and village?

    Just how often is it actually used for formal worship on the grand scale that it would take to fill it?

    Would not the charitable, social and spiritual functions be better provided at more local level by vicars who really know their parishioners?

    Do we really need to have a Bishop with a huge house and gardens worth probably millions, funded by the Church of England?

    I’m not convinced there’s a need for such a place as the cathedral in today’s society.

  4. C Stevens Reply

    December 24, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Which other cathedrals have had to close due to problems with funding?

  5. John Perkins Reply

    December 25, 2016 at 11:10 am

    The good bishop appears to prefer his house over his flock.

  6. Mike Adams Reply

    December 25, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Unlike our great historic cathedrals, Guildford is a rather unattractive building and will I believe become more so as the decades and centuries pass.

    This is not a building worthy to pass on to future generations,like so much other architecture of its time.

    Rather than allowing the area to be despoiled with over development of housing, we would do better without the cathedral and building something of rather more benefit to the whole community on the site.

  7. Bernard Parke Reply

    December 25, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Our cathedral, as an example of contemporary gothic, is unique.

    Guildford broke away from Winchester in the 1920s due to the urban sprawl in the commuter belt which unfortunately is still sprawling to-day.

    It is only the third cathedral to built since the Middle Ages.

    Would its demise prevent further sprawl on Stag Hill and the green belt? I think not.

  8. Guy Sutlieff Reply

    December 28, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Was this comment by the good bishop meant to be a joke? Has there ever been an instance (war and Henry VIII aside) in English history, of a cathedral shutting down?

    Personally I believe in a “virgin birth” and “feeding the five thousand” more than I believe that the C of E would “close” and then demolish a cathedral.

    Give us credit for a little bit of intelligence Bishop Watson.

  9. David Roberts Reply

    December 29, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Ugly cathedral. Knock it down. Make more green space. This could be the C of E’s Christian legacy to the people of Guildford.

  10. David Wragg Reply

    December 30, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I am surprised that the Bishop commented as I would have thought that this matter is really one for the Dean of the Cathedral.

    If the situation is so desperate, the dean should be making an appeal to the congregation. Does the cathedral have a support group such as “Friends of Guildford Cathedral” by any chance? One cathedral that does have such a grouping receives money from the Friends for specific projects. In the example mentioned, some churches in the diocese in question are corporate members of the ‘Friends’.

    If Guildford is to remain as a diocese, it does need a cathedral, although it managed well for many years by using Holy Trinity Church, in the High Street, as a pro-cathedral.

    It does seem as if many of the contributors to this debate are Methodists or Presbyterians as they put more emphasis on vicars and don’t seem to understand the important role of a cathedral in holding a diocese together and the role of the bishop in providing leadership.

    That said, what comes across is more akin to blackmail than leadership.

  11. John Perkins Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Contemporary it may be, but it’s still unattractive.

    The Catholic cathedral in Liverpool, colloquially known as “Paddy’s Wig-Wam”, is sublime inside, yet only its supporters would claim it has great merit outside.

    This is an expression of the faith: we are invited to believe that outside it is drab and ugly whilst inside is beautiful. The Orthodox churches in the east express it most clearly.

  12. Colin Goble Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    As I recall, Guildford ran out of funds implementing the original architectural design, and so we got the cheaper and, dare I say, ugly brick edifice that blights the Guildford landscape today.

    Now we are told the church authorities have insufficient funds to maintain it.

    Perhaps a reasonable conclusion would be that the cathedral was a mistake which Guildford could ill afford from the beginning. Why not demolish the Cathedral and instead apply whatever funds the diocese may have to maintaining the many beautiful churches which surround our lovely town?

  13. Olive Edwards Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    The Bishop would seem to be suggesting that there is an altruistic motive behind developing Stag Hill as it would address a housing need experienced by workers within local schools, hospital, constabulary and the council. He also stresses the need for more affordable housing that this development would meet.

    This claim would be more credible if the percentage of affordable housing planned into the development was not such a meagre 27%, considerably below that sought by the council for such developments, and plans did not include the demolition of perfectly adequate cathedral staff housing to be replaced by 16 new residences which include five bedroom homes for both himself and the dean.

    This also raises the question of what would happen to the Bishop’s existing residence in Jacobs Well should this development be approved. I am sure Linden Homes would be open to discussing a solution to the embarrassing problem of owning two substantial homes in an area where, as the Bishop is only too aware, recruitment and retention problems are being experienced by local schools, hospitals etc. due to a shortage of suitable housing.

    As for the Bishop’s statement on the land in question as a local amenity, that “in my experience it is seldom used as such”, let me assure him that in my experience, as someone who lives locally, the reverse is true.

    The reality is that this development is about money and generalised statements concerning the cathedral’s future are being used in an attempt to push this development through at the expense of legitimate planning concerns.

  14. Sara Tokunaga Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Maybe it would be a good idea to petition the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish once and for all whether “there is every likelihood the building will have to close were this scheme not to go ahead “. I do not believe our local bishop has the authority to close the building down – surely this decision would be made by the hierarchy of the Church of England.

    The “philanthropic” side of the bishop’s comments re shortage of housing in Guildford should only be greeted with derision. I would have more time for him if he held his hands up and admitted this whole exercise is just a money-grabbing venture.

    It appears the Church of England is the same as so many other organisations – out for all it can get and only looking after itself. Who cares about the local community? Certainly not the bishop or the dean.

  15. Bernard Parke Reply

    January 1, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    When the work on the cathedral started in 1935 the cost of building was £250K and at that time that figure was sufficient.

    However, Guildford Cathedral suffered from the war and work could not be resumed until 1951. By then the total cost had risen to one million pounds.

    If it were not for the tenacity of Eleanora Iredale we would not have had a Cathedral at all.

    The only alteration to the original design was to the side transepts. The bricks were made from the clay of which Stag Hill itself consists and were hand baked.

    The design is specially made to drain off the rain water and prevent corrosion. There are examples of such bricks in France which have stood the test of time for 1,000 years.

    Most of the stonework of the older cathedral was imported from France, but our outside stonework comes from Rutland and that on the inside from Somerset.

    We also have Ashburton marble from Devon and green marble from Sweden, in addition to Travertine stone as used in the Coliseum in Rome.

    The building is a building of its time and is unique but, as any examination will show, it can hardly be called cheap.

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