CAMPAIGNERS battling to stop the church selling off one of the oldest allotment sites in the country for up to £1m have launched a hands-off petition.
Bedale Allotment Association warn the site is too precious to lose and is one of the last green areas left in the heart of the community. They say alternative land outside town offered by the Diocese is not suitable.
The land, off Masham Road, was given to St Gregory’s Church, in Bedale, in 1836 by a local landowner, with ownership transferred to the Diocese of Ripon, now part of the new super Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, the largest in the country.
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Half of the Masham Road site has already been sold off for housing, but about one and a half acres of allotment land has been declared a community asset by the local councils.
This means local people have to be offered first refusal to buy the land if it goes up for sale, but with an estimated price tag of more than £1m, it would be virtually impossible to find the money.
Association spokesman John Burton said the Diocese is working against the community interest.
“The Diocese has already sold or cashed in half of the land in its ownership," he said.
"The proceeds of that sale have been dispersed throughout the Diocese, we feel the allotment area should not become yet another building site, but be retained for the benefit of the Bedale community.
“We want to secure the protection and enjoyment of the site for many years to come, through either a long term tenancy or community buy out.
"We are encouraging the Diocese to engage with us in the management of this land as a flagship which clearly demonstrates the church’s own environmental and sustainability policies.
“Gardening, community initiatives and development of the sites potential have all been held back for over twenty years by the Diocese’s reluctance to offer a long term tenancy and their desire to sell the allotment land,” he added.
Mr Burton said the local church is supporting their case and the campaign has also called on supporters to object to any plans to develop the land.
The petition and campaign leaflet was launched at Bedale Town Council with every councillor signing it. For further information contact the association on 01677-426780.
No-one from the West Yorkshire and Dales Diocese could be contacted to comment.