Some background information about Diocesan glebe land
People often ask about glebe land; who owns it and what happens to the income. So here are the answers.
It all started in 1978 when the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 came into effect, transferring the ownership and management of glebe land from incumbents (parish Rectors or Vicars) to Diocesan Boards of Finance (DBFs).
Before 1978 an incumbent could keep the rent from the glebe land in his parish and, indeed, sell the land and use the proceeds to supplement his stipend. This resulted in some clergy who owned a lot of glebe land enjoying a high income, while others – with little or no glebe land – struggled with low incomes.
From 1978 onwards, the ownership of all glebe has passed to DBFs, and all income arising from glebe land has to therefore be used towards the payment of stipends. Consequently, the income from glebe land is enjoyed by all parishes in the diocese because it reduces the amount of parish share requested from them.
In this way, many parishes where there was previously no glebe land now benefit from the land held by the DBFs, and all parish clergy in a diocese are paid the same stipend.
At the present time, the Peterborough Diocesan Board of Finance owns a little bit less than 4,500 acres of glebe land. This is spread out in a lot of holdings across the diocese, averaging 25 acres per holding. We work with about 175 tenants in the use of much of this land.
The diocese comprises all of Northamptonshire, the county of Rutland and a part of north-west Cambridgeshire including some (but not all!) of Peterborough – an area of 1,150 square miles.
When glebe assets are sold, proceeds from the sale of glebe land are reinvested either in more land or buildings (such as a curate’s house in another location) or in quoted investments. Thus glebe continues to be held as a permanent capital endowment. The income from the investments supports the Diocesan Stipends Fund.
When a potential disposal of glebe becomes possible, we serve a notice on the local PCC. The purpose of serving the notice is to enable the PCC to comment on the principle of the sale. The Board of Finance considers these comments before any final decision on the proposed transaction is made.
So why are you selling glebe land now? Isn’t this just short-term thinking?
We have been subsidising the investment in clergy over the last five years by the planned use of £7m of reserves.
In 2019 our expenditure across the diocese was £400k more than our income.
We have been looking at ways to reduce the budget gap through a combination of savings on expenditure and increasing income. We have cut back on expenditure where possible, and have invested in the Parish Giving Scheme as part of the stewardship tools available to help parishes to take advantage of Gift Aid as efficiently as possible.
Last year we requested £8m parish share but received £7m – we are forecasting share receipts of £6m this year. We are hugely grateful for the sacrificial efforts made by all of our parishes but recognise that the future sustainability of the diocese means we need to explore all avenues of raising income to support the mission of the Church across the diocese.
When the Diocese sells land for development, the capital receipt is substantial compared with the value of agricultural land. We then look to invest these receipts at a higher yield than agricultural rents.
Responsibilities as charity trustees
We are obliged to and need to actively manage the glebe resource in the best interests of the whole diocese. Indeed, it is part of our legal duty to achieve best value from our assets whilst managing the pastoral care of all benefices within the Diocese.
We keep under review the development potential or otherwise of the entire portfolio. When an opportunity arises for active consideration of a development, we are obliged to follow up on it. There is a range of ways that the use of land might be considered.
Our most recent sale took place with some glebe at Kettering. For that sale the diocese took all the risk in securing planning consent. The development of that proposal with the planners took in a whole range of factors including the need for amendments to local infrastructure; landscaping; and community issues.
An option/promotion agreement – which is what is proposed here – places the risk on the promoter as they bear the costs of drafting proposals for consideration by local planners. Again, as with Kettering, that is the time when there is a wide opportunity to engage with what is proposed, and to raise concerns and to make suggestions for provisions to benefit the local community. It is at this point that concerns about environmental impact can be properly addressed, once the exact nature of any proposals is known.
The environmental impact will be assessed through the planning process, with comprehensive ecology surveys being conducted. The planning process will assess what mitigation measures are required should a development be deemed appropriate.
Why didn’t the PCC receive an earlier service of notice?
Prior to the serving of notice there are commercially sensitive conversations that take place. A premature move could have an adverse impact on proposals being developed. The Board as a charity is obliged to undertake the proper groundwork first, which is what we have been doing over the last few months.
Why don’t you sell something else instead?
We do sell surplus houses and we also deal with closed churches, but it takes a very long time to settle the final disposition of former places of worship. The entire glebe portfolio is kept under review, and sites are under consideration where there is potential.
Aren’t you just hypocritical, arrogant, money-grabbing officials who only care about Peterborough?
We would hope that we are not! We are all part of the entire diocese, seeking to serve the mission of the Church. We have a duty to make the best use of the resources available to support that endeavour. All the monies raised in the diocese are directed at serving that missional activity.
We will be considering the PCC’s representations at the next meeting of the Glebe and Trust Committee.