Church land sell-off slammed

AN MP has branded as “deeply regrettable” the Church's decision to sell off one of the last plots of green land in a parish already swamped by massive housing development.

AN MP has branded as “deeply regrettable” the Church's decision to sell off one of the last plots of green land in a parish already swamped by massive housing development.

Colchester MP Bob Russell said only a miracle would now save Glebe Field in Mile End after Church of England-appointed property agents erected a For Sale sign and invited offers in excess of £1.5million.

The 2.1-acre plot of church-owned land at the bottom of Mile End Road is virtually the last open space in the parish, which is home to the largest regeneration project in north-east Essex.

The field has remained more or less untouched since Roman times and has been described as “a green oasis amid a sea of buildings”.

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The area around Mile End is developing quickly, and will soon be home to 10,000 new residents, four new schools and 3,500 workplaces.

During separate visits to the Myland parish earlier this year, the Bishops of Colchester and Chelmsford - the Right Reverend Christopher Morgan and the Rt Rev John Gladwin - called for adequate community provision, such as pubs, corner shops and open spaces, to meet the population boom.

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However, following Colchester Borough Council's decision to grant outline planning permission for between 25 and 42 units on Glebe Field, the Diocese of Chelmsford has pressed ahead with its sale despite bitter objections from parishioners.

One resident, who asked not to be named, called for an agreement between the church and the council to ensure the land remained untouched, possibly as a public park.

“They say there's not enough green space yet here they are planning to get rid of the last bit,” he said yesterday.

“And to think it's actually the church that's planning to sell Mile End's soul away is nothing short of disgusting.”

Mr Russell, who has raised the issue in the House of Commons, said: “It is deeply regrettable that the diocese's board of finance is not practising what its good bishops are preaching.

“I hope something can be done to save the land, but I fear we may need a miracle.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Chelmsford said charity law dictated that the Church had a legal obligation to manage its assets efficiently.

He said: “This land was earmarked by the council for housing development under the local plan, so we were duty bound to look at a sale.”

“If circumstances changed so that housing was no longer allowed to be built there, we would have to act differently,” he added.

But yesterday, borough council planning officer John Davies said: “We would not force anyone to sell land that they own regardless of whether it's in the local plan or not.

“If the Church did not want to sell the plot, we'd just try to make up the shortfall in the number of houses in the plan by some other means.”

Chelmsford-based property agents Strutt & Parker said yesterday no offers had yet been made on the land, but they considered the plot to be worth more than £1.5million.

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