Cathedrals 'not too big to fail', Archbishop of Canterbury warns cash-strapped Guildford
The Church of England will not rescue cathedrals from financial collapse
By Jane Mathews
February 26, 2017
They have dominated Britain's cities and dioceses for centuries and represent some of the country's most impressive landmarks.
However, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned Britain's cathedrals are not "too big to fail" as he confirmed the Church of England will not rescue Guildford Cathedral from financial collapse.
The future of the cathedral is now under threat after plans for a housing development on surplus land that would have raised a £10m endowment were rejected by the council.
The cathedral is losing up to £100,000 a year, with sources saying the relatively modern building, completed in 1961, struggles to attract the donations received by more established churches.
Local church leaders had hoped a proposal by Linden Homes to demolish existing clergy properties on Stag Hill and build 134 new apartments and houses would solve its financial problems.
But the scheme was criticised as overbearing by local residents and overwhelmingly rejected by local councillors.
The Most Rev Justin Welby had previously warned that the Church would not "rescue" the cathedral.
In a letter to the council days before the decision, he wrote: "It is sometimes said that cathedrals are the Church of England's equivalent of the big banks - 'too big to fail' - and that the very serious financial straits that are one of the motivating factors for Guildford pursuing this application are not so serious because the central church would 'rescue' them before total collapse. This is not the case."
He added that as cathedrals are independent bodies within the Church of England, Guildford Cathedral could not rely on help from any central church body.
He said: "Naturally there are ways of offering assistance and advice, but it is extremely unlikely that any part of the church would be able to compensate financially for the effects of this development not going ahead.
"I hope that anyone who has been misinformed on this point will understand that the future of Guildford's Cathedral rests very much in the decision the council makes."
He also addressed concerns that the development would ruin the view of the cathedral, saying: "I appreciate the striking picture that Guildford Cathedral makes, sitting alone on its hill. However this picture is not one that the cathedral wishes to present; it wishes to be rooted deeply in providing solace and joy to all who live in its diocese. Cathedrals are living building which thrive on welcoming people in; medieval cathedrals are often crowded around with houses, as at Lincoln or York."
The chief concerns expressed by locals were over the height of the development and the loss of green space, as well as increased congestion and pressure on school places from the new homes.
At a planning meeting, Dean Dianna Gwilliams, reportedly told councillors: "There is no plan B.
"We welcome more than 90,000 people a year and the running cost of the building is immense. We believe the development proposal is the only way to raise the necessary endowment."
Bishop of Guildford Andrew Watson told the committee: "Without this planning permission there will be no endowment, no investment income and possibly no cathedral."
However, councillors overwhelmingly voted against the application on the basis that it was out of character for the area.
They also stated that the development would cause substantial harm to the cathedral building and have a negative impact on views of the building from key locations in Guildford.
More than 60 residents had attended Guildford Methodist Church to discuss their concerns.
Olive Edwards, who organised the discussion, said: "There was anger over what appeared to be blackmail by the cathedral to get a housing development approved to raise money for their financial inadequacies.
"The Linden Homes proposal for 134 dwellings is a dense, overbearing development creating significant overlooking because of the proposed height of the buildings combined with the rise in the land and the plans for a large number of balconies."
Howard Moss, chairman of Onslow Residents' Association and chairman of Queen Eleanors School PTA, added: "This development is not at the right time, not the right place and I don't believe the church is that broke."
A spokesman for the cathedral said: "Clearly we are disappointed by the decision reached by GBC.
"As trustees, Guildford Cathedral Chapter have a responsibility to consider all options open to securing the cathedral's long-term future. We will carefully consider the reasons for refusal before deciding the next steps."
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