THE CHURCH of England has been accused of withholding vital information which could have paved the way for affordable homes being built in a rural community.

Charitable trust, Upper Dales Community Land Trust, has written to the Bishop of Leeds over the sale of Arkengarthdale C of E Primary School, in Langthwaite, which was forced to close a year ago after the number of pupils fell to just five.

The trust had imagined turning the school site, near Richmond, into affordable housing - but lost out after the site was sold to a higher private bidder for £185,000.

Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council, who previously owned the school site, have claimed that they were legally bound to sell to the highest bidder, despite Richmondshire District Council pledging £150,000 from its affordable housing fund to buy the site in partnership with the Trust. The Trust have now claimed that church representatives failed to inform them that under the same legal covenants, they could reject private offers and give the building to an organisation registered with the Charities Commission.

The Trust at the time were not registered as a charity, but would have done to undercut other bidders for the site.

Stephen Stubbs, chairman of UDCLT said: “Why did the Church rush through this sale rather than give us time to register as a charity? Where there’s a will there’s a way, except where money is involved it would seem," said Mr Stubbs.

“We would have been willing to pay for the upkeep of the premises in the few months it would take to register as a charity.

“The extra £35,000 they made on the deal is a drop in the ocean compared to the reputational damage it is doing to the Church of England. Where is the morality in allowing the sale to proceed without providing us with facts and against the wishes of the community?”

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, the local MP, has also called on the Church to reconsider the decision which the Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted he is powerless to change.

But the PCC only informed the Trust it could have sold to a registered charity for a lower price once its members had voted to accept the highest offer on Church lawyers’ advice.

The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has set up a commission in response to the housing crisis, suggested the Trust take the case up with the Leeds and Ripon Diocese.