VILLAGERS fighting to turn a former school into desperately needed affordable housing are calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene after church officials said they had no choice but to sell it to the highest bidder.

Arkengarthdale Primary School in the Yorkshire Dales was forced to close last year after pupil numbers fell to five and the building was put up for sale with a price tag of £185,000.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust came up with a proposal to turn it into three two bedroom and one one-bedroom homes for young families. This was backed by Arkengarthdale Parish Council, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Richmondshire District Council who came up with £150,000 from its affordable housing fund, based on independent valuations.

The Northern Echo: Arkengarthdale schoolArkengarthdale school

But Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council have accepted an offer of £185,000 from an undisclosed buyer after they were told legally they had to sell to the highest bidder.

Stephen Stubbs, 61, Chairman of the Trust, who was a pupil at the school, said: "The Church has taken a legal view but not considered its moral obligation to the people of Arkengarthdale. The school was bought through local people for the benefit of local people.

"We are extremely concerned. The school building is the last chance to provide affordable housing to secure a more sustainable and brighter future for the community of Arkengarthdale.

"The decision seems to contradict the aims of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commission to examine housing, church and community, which states: 'We have land and resources that can be used to help meet the need for more affordable housing'. In this case, it appears his vision to encourage and actively help affordable housing to be created from their estate is not borne out by reality as the exact opposite is happening, with his prophecy being sacrificed in the interests of short-term profit. We had hoped that after last year’s devastating floods and the Covid restrictions, Arkengarthdale would have some good news."

Vicar Rev Caroline Hewlett, who is on the Parochial Church Council said they had really struggled and looked at every possibility to try to sell to the local trust but had no choice. "We were bound by charity law. We are well aware of the problems of housing in the Dales and tried everything but our hands were tied. We are very supportive of what the Trust wants to do and looked to see if there were ways round it but we are bound to take the highest price."

"They offered 20 per cent lower, we did go back to see if they could increase the offer but they could not. We had over 60 enquiries about the building, sadly there was nothing we could do."

District and county councillor Yvonne Peacock said: "We need people to live and work in Arkengarthdale to support our businesses, farming and tourism. I am so very disappointed our offer was rejected. Our proposal provided an ideal way forward to preserve a community for future generations.

Mr Stubbs has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to intervene to persuade church authorities to review the case.