Fury as church sells its hall

CHURCH officials have been accused of splitting the community after they decided to sell Soham s church hall to a developer. Angry councillors, who had battled to save the half acre site for the town, warned that the decision had driven a wedge between

CHURCH officials have been accused of "splitting the community" after they decided to sell Soham's church hall to a


Angry councillors, who had battled to save the half acre site for the town, warned that the decision had driven a wedge between the church and the community.

"This hall was paid for by the community and the people who have made this decision will be blacklisted for ever," warned Soham district councillor Colin Fordham, who launched the campaign.

"They are the churchies and we are the townies.

"But we won't stop fighting. We are getting a petition together and we will fight this all the way. This news is terrible - it's like the death of someone I know."

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Soham district councilor, John Palmer said: "I am absolutely flabbergasted. They have driven a wedge between the community and the church. This is a poor show.

"There are a lot of people who don't go to church but support it when it needs money. Now it could be a different story."

The decision to push ahead with a £500,000 plus offer from a developer to build houses on the prime town centre site came at a Parochial Church Council meeting on Tuesday evening.

Members rejected calls from Soham Town Council and East Cambridgeshire District Council to delay the sale.

Councillors wanted the opportunity to try to raise cash to put up a rival bid for the site and save it for community use.

But Parochial Church Council members were not convinced the community could raise the cash and claimed it had no clearly defined plan for the site.

Soham Town Councillor Peter Beer said: "I am gutted but in my heart of hearts I was expecting this." He added that "it would have been a huge mountain to climb" to try to raise money to buy the site.

"I was by no means sure it would have succeeded," he said, "but we could have made an attempt. I do think, however, that the cards were very much against us."

Soham Town Councillor John Kirkham said: "I am deeply disappointed by this decision. We obviously want to find the money the church urgently needs, and we know that raising it will be a daunting task for Soham. All we have ever asked for is a few months' grace to give us a fighting chance of preserving this unique site for the community."

Now proceeds from the sale will go towards a £600,000 repair and renovation bill for historic Grade I listed St. Andrew's Church.

A Parochial Church Council spokesperson said: "The decision to sell has been a difficult one for the Parochial Church Council which is aware of the strength of feeling among certain members of Soham Town Council who feel the site should be used for a community project.

"However, the church feels it is highly unlikely that funds for the purchase of the site could be found with East Cambridgeshire District Council being unable to give assurance of adequate financial backing. Other funds available to the town are earmarked for other projects.

"In addition, while various ideas for the site were mooted by those unhappy at the impending sale, no clearly defined plan has emerged to reassure the church that money could be found from any other source.

"The PCC cannot afford to lose the opportunity to generate these crucial funds to continue to preserve this majestic church and ensure it remains at the heart of the town.