Vicar’s mediator role

PEACEMAKER: The Rev Amanda Barraclough.
PEACEMAKER: The Rev Amanda Barraclough.
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A PARISH church caught up in a row between protesters and developers hopes to lead talks between both sides.

As reported in last week’s paper, campaigners fighting plans for 500 homes and 35 hectares of business development on green belt land in Chidswell had hit out at the Church of England’s Church Commissioners for offering up a potential site.

Some of the congregation at St Mary’s, in nearby Woodkirk, have turned their backs on the Church altogether, accusing the Church Commissioners of putting profits before communities.

But others have remained loyal to St Mary’s, saying it cannot be held responsible.

The Rev Amanda Barraclough said: “We’ve become innocent victims in the midst of a storm.

“I hope people can see the difference between local church communities and the ‘head office’ which is rather detached from life on the ground.”

She said the issue had divided her congregation.

“There are many people in the congregation who don’t want to see that land eaten up with development because it’s a place dear to them,” she said. “Yet there are others who can see the potential benefits for new housing and employment.

“The church can’t stand with one group and oppose the other. We have to stand in the middle of these differing perspectives and allow an opportunity for dialogue.”

The proposals to build in Chidswell are part of Kirklees Council’s Local Development Framework – a plan for creating homes and jobs over 15 years.

The Church Commissioners, who manage the Church of England’s investment portfolio, stand to earn more than £100m if their Windsor Park site is developed.

Chidswell Action Group chairman Rod Lilley, who has left St Mary’s, said: “It’s split people’s opinions massively, especially around Chidswell, Woodkirk and Batley. The Commissioners could stop any of this.”

Rev Barraclough said she hoped the church could play a role in fresh talks between both sides and she was now trying to arrange a meeting between local people and the Church Commissioners.

“We want to offer those who feel quite raw and hurt by this whole process to have an opportunity to listen to one another,” she said.