The Rt Rev Rachel Treweek calls housing secretary’s move ‘incomprehensible’

The Bishop of Gloucester has written to the housing secretary accusing him of personally blocking a 350-home development on Church land.

The Rt Rev Rachel Treweek told Gove of her “frustration and confusion” at the “recovery” of a planning application for 350 homes in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire, for his own determination.

The Bishop said neither the Church nor the housing developer beyond the project, Miller Homes, had been given any explanation for what she described as an “incomprehensible” move to call the application in.

The site belongs to the Gloucester Diocesan Board of Finance, the main Church of England charity for the Diocese of Gloucester and 140 of the planned homes are affordable, with others for social rent.

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Rachel Treweek said the proposals by Miller Homes are ‘completely uncontroversial’

“The money from the sale of this land is to be reinvested by the Church of England in projects both local to Cheltenham and nationally,” the Bishop wrote.

She added: “The most logical explanation for you seeking to take the decision personally is to refuse it, however given your strong commitment to levelling up and social mobility I am surprised at this.

“There is a substantial and widespread housing crisis in England which we, as the Church of England locally, are seeking to alleviate as best we can.”

Gove has already drawn criticism from the housebuilding sector after intervening in planning applications in Tunbridge Wells, East Cheshire and Leamington Spa this year.

Building’s sister title Housing Today understands the decision to recover the Leckhampton appeal did not come before ministers and was made by officials acting on behalf of Gove. A report will be made by the Independent Planning Inspector, with recommendations for ministers to consider.

The Miller Homes application was for 350 homes on the Church’s Leckhampton site, 40% of which would have been affordable, with a bias towards social rent, run by the Church of England’s housing association.

The site was recommended for planning by the officers at Cheltenham Borough Council in April last year but subsequently refused due to concerns around energy security and climate change.

According to the Bishop’s letter, the council made the “unexpected decision” to refuse permission for the planning application, citing “a lack of sufficient air source heat pumps”.

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Miller Homes subsequently amended the plans to fit every home with heat pumps and solar panels, which the Bishop says “makes the proposals completely uncontroversial”.

“Building these houses means we can welcome families who need a home and start to build a new community with them. We look forward to receiving a positive response from Mr Gove,” the Bishop told Housing Today.

Stewart Baseley, executive chair of the Home Builders Federation, said: “The housing secretary claims to want to see 300,000 homes a year built, yet his policy decisions and his interventions on local planning matters strongly suggest the opposite is true.

“[Gove] is personally intervening to block developments that enjoy local support and would deliver huge economic and social benefits. This anti-development approach may be politically smart and curry favour with some backbench MPs but it has obvious consequences for jobs and economic growth.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment.