Anglicans consider merging Yorkshire dioceses

The Church of England is looking to merge three dioceses under a proposed boundary shake-up in Yorkshire – potentially putting jobs at risk.

A report from the The Dioceses Commission on the four dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield and their boundaries with the Diocese of York, has drawn up what it calls "radical and realistic" recommendations.

It recommends there should be a single diocese, instead of the current three, covering West Yorkshire and those parts of the Dioceses of Bradford and Ripon and Leeds that are in North Yorkshire.

The Commission insists the review was "mission-led and not finance-driven" but the Church of England has been unable to rule out job losses in the future if the recommendations are pursued.

The proposals would eliminate duplication of work and offer the prospect of greater efficiency and resilience in the support of parishes, schools, clergy and other licensed ministers, the report argues.

Under the proposals, the three existing dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield would be dissolved and a new larger diocese created.

The new diocese would be divided into five episcopal areas – Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon and Wakefield – each with its own area bishop and area council.

"The area bishops," the report says, "would be, as many have requested, closer in every sense to their clergy and people than it has been possible for the diocesan bishops to be."

Priscilla Chadwick, who chaired the review, said: "The review and its conclusions are mission-led and not finance-driven (though mission needs to be financed, so financial considerations cannot be ignored). We have asked which structures will best enable the Church of England to relate to the communities of Yorkshire (not just in the parishes but also at city, borough, district and county levels), which will be most intelligible to non-churchgoers, which would eliminate wasteful duplication, and which are likely to prove resilient and sustainable into the medium term."

The report recommends that the new diocese would retain the three cathedrals. Wakefield Cathedral would be the principal cathedral of the diocese with Wakefield as the diocesan see. Bradford Cathedral would remain as a focus of the church's ministry in the city, and Ripon Cathedral would provide a focus for the Yorkshire Dales.

The existing three diocesan offices would be replaced by one in Leeds that would lead to financial savings. Overall, the diocese would have the same number of bishops as the current three dioceses but one fewer archdeacon.

The report concludes that South Yorkshire should continue to have its own Diocese of Sheffield.

Recommendations must be debated by the diocesan synods before any scheme can be submitted to the General Synod, which is unlikely to be before July 2013.

The Dean of Bradford, the Very Revd David Ison, said the church remains "deeply committed" to all communities in its region, regardless of how dioceses are organised.