A GROUP hoping to provide much-needed affordable housing to a remote Dales community has decided to form a charity in the hope of buying a former school.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust (UDCLT) has asked the Archbishop to intervene after its £150,000 bid to buy Arkengarthdale C of E Primary School to create three two-bedroom and one one-bedroom home for young families was rejected.

MP Rishi Sunak has also written a letter in support of the trust after hearing its offer to buy the former school was unsuccessful.

However, the Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted he is powerless to make church officials act in accordance with his stated aim of providing affordable homes.

At the launch of the Most Rev Justin Welby’s commission last year to examine the housing crisis and communities it was stated: “We have land and resources that can be used to help meet the need for more affordable housing.”

An early test involving the redundant Church of England school premises in Arkengarthdale resulted in church officials accepting a higher private bid over a not-for-profit charitable land trust.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust (UDCLT) asked the Archbishop to intervene.

In a response to the trust on his behalf, Lambeth Palace said: “The Archbishop is indeed concerned about the availability of suitable affordable housing,

“The Commission will look into various issues around housing and examine how the Church might use its land and resources to contribute in this area.

“This will include consideration of the current legal duty to maximize profits, among other relevant matters. Unfortunately, the Archbishop is unable to intervene in this situation, as this is a matter for the parish and the diocese outside of his jurisdiction.”

Arkengarthdale School, which closed a year ago after pupil numbers fell to just five, has been sold on the open market for £185,000 for private development.

It was bought for £325 in 1933 from a retired Colonel and a condition attached to the deeds was that the proceeds of any future sale should be used for ecclesiastical measures in the parish.

Parochial Church Council members were told they had no option but to accept the higher bid under charity law. The buyer will face intense local scrutiny and strict planning regulations within a national park.

The trust has the backing from Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who is the area’s MP, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Richmondshire District Council, which pledged the £150,000 through the Government’s affordable housing fund.

Stephen Stubbs, chairman of UDCLT, said: “We are morally justified in our case and appealing for diocesan officials to reconsider. We have received offers of support which would allow us to match the offer.

“What will the Church spend £185,000 on? According to the deeds it has to be spent in the parish. The most pressing need in Arkengarthdale is affordable housing for young families.

“There is a lot of interest in what we are doing and I remain hopeful that we will find a solution that will provide a blueprint for other communities faced with the daunting challenge of providing affordable housing, rather than being held up as yet another example of a community being undermined by the narrow interests of a few focused on exploiting rather than enhancing the best of what we have to offer.

“The trust is formally registering as a charity with the hope that this will free the Church from constraints it says forces it to sell to the highest bidder.

“If the Church refuses to reconsider the sale, the trust will ask for a large donation from the proceeds to be used to provide new-build affordable homes in the parish.”

For further information on the UDCLT’s affordable housing scheme in Arkengarthdale please contact: Stephen Stubbs on e: udcltrust@gmail.com.