CALLS have been made for the Government to examine the Church of England’s practice of selling properties to the highest bidder without considering community offers.

Last month it was revealed that the CofE was selling the former Arkengarthdale school in the Yorkshire Dales to a couple who were offering their £700,000 home in Snowdonia as a raffle prize.

This dashed the plans of the charitable Upper Dales Community Land Trust (UDCLT) which hoped to buy the building and covert it into four affordable homes for locals.

The school building had an asking price of £185,000 and the UDCLT proposed 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 offered £150,000 from its affordable housing fund, based on independent valuations.

The Northern Echo:

Martin and Sue Stephenson outbid the UDCLT

The UDCLT appealed for the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene when the church said it had no choice but to sell the building to the highest bidder.

At the other end of the country, a community interest company, comprising local residents backed by councils and heritage groups, is offering to buy a 15th century Old Deanery in Wells, Somerset, for £1.25 million.

Its plan is to create an art gallery or museum, restaurant, café and shop and for the building to serve as a vital social hub.

But the Bath and Wells Diocese is refusing to engage with the community project, instead entering into negotiations with a private developer who has outbid the increased offer.

And in the same Diocese as Arkengarthdale - Leeds Diocese - residents of Rathmell near Settle are fighting to stop the church from attempting to seize another former village CofE school from its community charity owners.

Geraldine Peacock CBE, the first Chair of the Charity Commission, has seriously questioned whether the CofE has misinterpreted charity law for its own ends in claiming it is bound to accept the top price.

She said: “Diocesan Councils use this interpretation as the reason for maximizing their property assets in this way.

"It is not true that this means sell to the highest financial bidder.

“I was Chair when the Act went through Parliament and subsequently the Charity Commission published a lot of guidance to tell people that to maximize your assets was a process that judges social value and financial return.

“We want Parliament to investigate, with the CofE, its property disposal issues because they are exempt from legislation pertaining to local authorities.”

Groups across the country with charitable intention, who feel their best interests are being ignored by the church, are lobbying constituency MP’s as a first step in the campaign.

Stephen Stubbs, Chair of UDCLT, backed the calls for an investigation, saying: “We thought ours may be an isolated case, but it has become clear similar community asset stripping is happening elsewhere.

“It would appear money is the only motivation, all the talk about the importance of communities and helping with the housing crisis is proving to be just empty rhetoric.”