Controversial plans to stop a bishop living in the mediaeval palace occupied by his predecessors for centuries have been withdrawn.
The Rt Rev Peter Hancock, who will be formally enthroned as the 79th Bishop of Bath and Wells next month, had been told he would not live in the 13th Century palace because it was not “conducive to ministry” and a more normal family home would be found.
The mediaeval complex doubles as diocesan headquarters and a tourist attraction and the Church Commissioners, the Church of England’s property and financial arm, argued that it lacked privacy for the bishop and his family.
But the Commissioners were openly ridiculed when it emerged they had bought a grand Georgian former rectory outside Wells at a cost of £900,000 for the bishop to live in until something more “permanent” could be found.
The property, complete with walled gardens, is much larger than the modest flat in Wells Palace set aside as the bishop’s quarters.
Now, following an unprecedented protest by the diocese itself [and the Georgian Group, Country Life and others], a specially convened tribunal acting on behalf of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York has thrown out the decision and ruled that the new bishop should live within the city of Wells itself. The panel of the Archbishops’ Council said officials had failed to make the case for the move out of the palace.
In a nine-page judgment it also noted that the commissioners had been warned that exiling the bishop from his palace was likely to lead to uproar in the diocese. “The Commissioners failed to anticipate the impact of their decision in Wells and in the wider diocese,” the panel ruled.
No decision has been taken on what now to do with the empty rectory, although it was described in the judgment as an “attractive investment asset”.
Bishop Hancock, who will move to Wells in early June, said: “The Palace will be at the heart of my ministry as the place where I live, study, pray and work, alongside the Bishop of Taunton.”
Tessa Munt, the local MP, who campaigned against the episcopal relocation, said: “I was honoured to have the opportunity to give evidence as a witness on behalf of the diocese ... and I’m absolutely delighted that the Archbishops’ Council has been just and fair and made a common sense decision which will be welcomed and supported by the whole of diocese.
“The city of Wells will give a collective jump for joy and can’t wait to welcome the new Bishop, and his family to his house in the palace.”
In a joint statement, the diocese and Church Commissioners said: “We appreciate the thoroughness of the Council’s consideration and the swiftness with which the decision has been reached. This outcome enables all concerned to look to the future, to celebrate the arrival of the new Bishop and to welcome Bishop Peter and his wife Jane when they arrive in June.”