Church of England could be hit by £15m water bill

June 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

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A new system of charging for surface water run-off on church property could cost the Church of England £15m.

During questions to the Church Commissioners, MPs raised the plight of Scouting organisations who are also affected by the new charges.

Sir Stuart Bell, for the Commissioners, told MPs that surface water charges by area will cost the Church of England “at least £5 million and a further £10 million for highways drainage contributions.

“The effect of these cost increases on individual parish churches and cathedrals will vary, but … every church will face an increase.”

Negotiations between the Church and the industry watchdog, Ofwat, were ongoing.

“We have heard some encouraging noises from Ofwat and the Government, but we hope for something more tangible and, from the Church’s point of view, for a broad, permanent exemption,” he said.

“That is what we are seeking to achieve with Ofwat.”

Labour MP David Taylor told the House that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which he is a member, is undertaking a review of Ofwat’s charging policies.

“We had the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), before us yesterday,” he said.

“He made it quite clear that Ofwat has not only a brief but a duty to ensure that charging systems are fair and avoid creating hardship.

“Can I suggest to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), that the Church Commissioners make strong representations to ensure that Ofwat delivers on what he described as encouraging noises?”

Sir Stuart said the water companies are charging churches and other voluntary bodies as if they were big businesses.

“We are seeking to argue that that cannot be morally or ethically right and that it is not a balanced approach.”

However, he said that the House “has to give, as I think it has done, a strong message to Ofwat in addition to all the other representations that have been made.”

The Church Commissioners, who include the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, have a range of duties, from bishops’ staffing needs to pastoral reorganisation to deciding the future of closed churches.

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