Sentamu to rule on scheme for super-diocese

The Archbishop of York will be now asked to rule on whether controversial plans to replace three existing Yorkshire dioceses with one “super-diocese” should move forward after the plans received a mixed response.

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

Voting took place on Saturday on the future of the Church of England dioceses of Ripon and Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, with the plans now being referred to the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, after Wakefield voted against the decision.

Bradford and Ripon and Leeds dioceses voted in favour of the reorganisation in West Yorkshire and the Dales. Since consent has not been given by all three, it is up to the Archbishop to decide if the plan should be placed before General Synod for a final decision.

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In Wakefield 76 voted against the plan, with 40 for the plan and four abstentions.

The Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, who voted against the scheme said: “I am in no doubt of the need for change, but not this change. We know the church needs development, that we need new ideas, new vision and we must recommit ourselves to working for a new vision across the diocese and across Yorkshire.

“Here in Wakefield, we shall all work together to strengthen our churches and give them new life.”

Under the recommendations, the three existing dioceses would be dissolved and a new, de-centralised diocese would be created, led by a diocesan bishop based in Leeds and divided into five areas – Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Ripon and Wakefield.

Critics have previously complained that the proposed new set-up will be dominated by Leeds and others believe the changes are financially-driven.

Once fully established, the net savings in revenue costs will be about £800,000 a year.

The Bishops of Bradford and Ripon and Leeds have expressed support for the plans but Bishop Platten, has expressed reservations, arguing that bigger is not always better. Individual parishes have also expressed serious concerns.

Last night Bishop Platten said: “These last few weeks have been quite difficult for all three dioceses so I welcome Saturday and the opportunity to vote on this issue after much prayer and consideration and discover where God is leading us all in this part of Yorkshire in the future.”

In Bradford 90 voted for the changes, four were against, no abstentions and in Ripon and Leeds, 70 were for, 18 against and there were two abstentions.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, who voted in favour, said “I welcome the clear approval of the Diocesan Synod for the scheme. I am also grateful for the open and honest debate we have had.

“I hope that this will mean the Archbishop of York can take the scheme to General Synod in July – further delay and indecision would be damaging to the mission of the church in this region

The Bishop of Bradford, Nick Baines, said: “This is a very encouraging result, and not entirely a surprise. I hope that when the Archbishop of York makes his decision on a referral to the General Synod in July, he will bear in mind all the factors that have led to this particular result. We look forward to how this will develop in the next few months.”

Two other dioceses also have a say, because their boundaries will be affected by the proposals. The neighbouring dioceses of Blackburn and Sheffield would receive six and two parishes respectively from the area of the proposed new single diocese: Sheffield has given its consent and Blackburn votes in April. The Archbishop will not be in a position to announce his decision until after all voting has taken place.

The chair of the Church of England Dioceses Commission, Professor Michael Clarke, said: “It is good to know that the Dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds support the commission’s proposals.”