Posted: Sun 29th May 2022

Community Council given “buy it or lose it” ultimatum over Flintshire village church

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Sunday, May 29th, 2022

A 110-year-old Flintshire village church faces being sold off on the open market which could see it demolished and the land developed.

Northop Hall Community Council has said the most iconic building in the village is in danger of disappearing if it doesn’t buy the building from the Diocese of St Asaph.

St Mary’s Church was consecrated on the 23rd of April 1912, it was designed by architect L.W. Barnard of Cheltenham, his original plans included a tower, but it was never fully built.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Northop Hall was served by both a chapel and Methodist church, but members of the “established” church had to go to Northop to worship.

In the 1880s, an iron building, the “Iron Mission Room” or “East Northop Iron Church”, was erected.

Local mine owner and churchwarden John Watkinson who owned Brook House  – now Northop Hall Country House Hotel – was concerned over the increasing unsuitability of the Iron Church.

He made a bequest on his death in 1908 to fund the building of a new church to serve this population on the condition that “the church people provide the site.”

Initial groundwork started in August 1910 and the foundation stone was laid on October 27th 1910.

The Church was completed in 1912 although the tower was not extended above the main roof level until around 50 years later.

With a dwindling congregation, the church closed in 2019 despite the council exploring possibilities with the Diocese to keep it open as a place of worship.

St Mary’s is owned by the Church in Wales but the council has said, “church authorities contributed very little, if anything, in terms of finance to build and develop the church.”

Councillors want the church returned to the community, “as it has been the generous contributions of the residents of Northop Hall over the years” which have purchased the land and paid for the building of the church.

The Representative Body of the Church in Wales has given the council the ultimatum to either buy the church – figures of around £100, 000 have been banded around – or it will be put on the open market, a move which could result in its demolition and the land put in the hands of developers. 

The council says that “morally” the church belongs to the community and should not be sold off “in order to profit from it” but said if it is sold, “the community should “benefit from the sale.”

The Church in Wales said it has written to Northop Hall Community Council offering the opportunity to buy the building directly without it going on the open market, but “no response has been received.”

The Representative Body also said that “every church is funded by people’s giving – either financially or in terms of volunteer time.”

The council met with Church Property Services last year and expected further meetings “when the site had been valued,” but no further meetings were offered, it said, “we expected better from the Church authorities.” 

In a statement given to Deeside.com, Northop Hall Community Council said: “For over four years, Northop Hall Community Council has been trying to establish a relationship with Church authorities, to find an equitable solution to the problems facing St Mary’s Church.”

“Initially, Northop Hall Community Council expressed its interest in exploring possibilities for working together, to keep the Church open as a place of worship.”

“Informal discussions with the Vicar showed signs of promise however, a formal letter sent to him in June 2018 was unanswered.”

“Consequently, we wrote to the Bishop, again stating our desire to help keep the Church open but received a response which we regarded, at best, as unhelpful.”

“Despite initiatives organised by villagers to find alternative uses for the building, the decision to close it was taken by the Church.”

“Research undertaken by the council from historical records has shown “that the Church authorities have contributed very little, if anything, in terms of finance to build and develop the Church.”

“This was achieved through over 100 years of private donations and public subscription.”

“In short, it was members of the community who funded its original establishment and further development, to bring it to its current state.”

“This includes the land, original building and more than one addition to this fine Church.” 

The council said: “Whilst the Anglican Church may have a legal claim to the building’s ownership, we believe that morally it belongs to the community and as such, it should be the community which should benefit from the sale.”

“Furthermore, we believe that the building is there for the community and not to be sold off in order to profit from it.”

“Following a very short meeting with members of the Church Property Services Department in September 2021, we understood that we would have a further meeting when the site had been valued.”

“Instead, with no further meetings being offered, we were met with an ultimatum to either buy – at a price for which we do not have the resources – or lose it.”

“After over 100 years of continuous support from the community, we expected better from the Church authorities.”

Despite initiatives organised by villagers to find alternative uses for the building, the decision to close it was taken by the Church.

In a statement, the Diocese of St Asaph said that decisions to close Churches are taken at local level following a request from the local congregation, normally as a result of very low attendance over a prolonged period of time.”

“Once a decision to close has been taken, the redundant building is returned to the owner, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales.”

“Neither the Diocese nor the Representative Body wants to close or sell churches and works hard to find creative solutions to fit a local situation.

“In this case, the Diocese and Representative Body agreed that the Mission Area of Mold could retain the building for a trial period and attempt to operate it as a Church Hall for use by the community.”

“Sadly this was not a success and the building continued to make an annual loss, and so the building was closed and handed back to the owners.”

The statement adds: “The Representative Body of the Church in Wales has written to Northop Hall Community Council offering it the opportunity to purchase the building directly, without it going on the open market, and giving it the opportunity to raise the funds over an agreed timeframe to do so.”

“So far, no response has been received. If the Community Council does not want to purchase the building directly, the building will be put up for sale on the open market.”

“The future of the building itself will be determined by the local planning authority, Flintshire County Council, in response to any applications they may receive for future uses from prospective and future purchasers.”

“Every Church is funded by people’s giving – either financially or in terms of volunteer time.”

“That giving is to the charity that is the Church, and to fund its charitable aims.”

Diocese of St Asaph said: “Once an individual Church building closes, as a charity, the Church in Wales and its trustees are obliged to seek and obtain financial best value for the disposal of its surplus assets, and to reinvest the proceeds in-line with its charitable aims.”

“Giving a building away would not represent best financial value in-line the Church in Wales’ charitable aims.”

“Once the building is sold, the net proceeds will be used to benefit the community through local mission and ministry in the area.”

 

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