HC Deb 28 February 2000 vol 345 cc16-8
30. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What is the policy of the commissioners in respect of the use of redundant churches for socially useful purposes. [110627]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

Significantly more than half the redundant churches have been appropriated to new uses—that is 880 in all—and continue to serve the community by providing facilities for worship, social and educational opportunities or low cost housing.

It is the Church of England's policy that when a church is closed for public worship under the Pastoral Measure 1983 the commissioners will assist and encourage the diocese to seek an alternative use for the building.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the representative of the Church Commissioners join me in expressing the hope that nobody in Islington is furnishing their garden with stolen church property brought down the M1 or along any other motorway, because such behaviour would be outrageous and deplorable?

Will my hon. Friend also consider seriously the long-term use of former church buildings? Many constituencies have former Church of England properties that have been sold off, sometimes for community use or worship by other faiths, which are then miraculously transferred to the private housing market, where they fall into the hands of property developers? Somewhere along the line, somebody has made a vast amount of money out of the conversion of a church building into expensive, exclusive private housing, when it is the policy and wish of the Church Commissioners that any redundant church building should be used for socially useful purposes such as social housing, if possible.

Will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that any future church property that is sold will have a charge placed on it that will prevent it from being sold for excessive profit in the private market and ensure instead that it is made useful for the community for worship or social or housing purposes?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for helping me define the term "socially useful". It covers use for a wide variety of civic, community and social activities, worship by other Christian bodies, arts, crafts, music and drama centres, workshops, shops, museums and sports halls and the provision of low-cost housing. The point of selling on from those who take over such property is a matter of concern. My hon. Friend has reflected that, and I shall be glad to take it up with the commissioners.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Would it not be better to try to ensure that churches do not become redundant? Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Church Commissioners to talk to the dioceses about providing grants for further community uses of churches, so that they do not become redundant?

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Some 1,500 churches have been made redundant and current guidelines recommend that use for worship by adherents of a non-Christian faith is not to be regarded as eminently suitable. That is to say, we are not in the business of turning over our redundant churches to other faiths. I shall be happy to take up on his behalf the point about whether grants should be made available to keep churches going.