Analysis: How the church can use its land to ease the nation’s housing crisis

St John Hoxton churchyard

What can one of the UK’s biggest landowners do to put its resources where its mouth is? Elizabeth Hopkirk reports

Some of the biggest barriers to the Church of England using more of its land for genuinely affordable housing could be overcome before the end of this year, the chair of the C of E’s housing commission predicts. Thousands of high-quality homes could be developed as a result, says Charlie Arbuthnot, a specialist in social housing financing who led the archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community whose report, Coming Home, was launched last month.

Individual churches and members of their congregations are engaged in small-scale housing schemes across the country, often for vulnerable communities. But, collectively, the Church of England owns almost 200,000 acres of land in England, more than the Duke of Westminster. What is stopping it putting bricks and mortar where its mouth is?

“It’s true the Church is a huge landowner but its ownership is incredibly complex,” says Graham Hunter, vicar of St John’s Hoxton in the east end of London, who has spent the past five years trying unsuccessfully to build flats for affordable rent on the edge of his churchyard. “A huge amount is arable farming land. It doesn’t come with infrastructure like schools and is not where people need homes. Owning half a forest is not the same as owning an ideal development site.”

Where the Church does own land in places with high demand, such as Hoxton, there are other complications – including the National Planning Policy Framework, which can be interpreted by local planning departments as forbidding any development that would harm the setting of a listed building, like Hunter’s imposing grade II* Georgian church.

This is premium content. 

Only logged in subscribers have access to it.

Login or SUBSCRIBE to view this story

Gated access promo

Existing subscriber? LOGIN

A subscription to Building Design will provide:

  • Unlimited architecture news from around the UK
  • Reviews of the latest buildings from all corners of the world
  • Full access to all our online archives
  • PLUS you will receive a digital copy of WA100 worth over £45.

Subscribe now for unlimited access.

Alternatively REGISTER for free access on selected stories and sign up for email alerts