Wednesday, 8 February 2006

General Synod: Wednesday

This morning’s business is reported on the CofE website:
General Synod - Summary of Business Conducted Wednesday 8th February am.

This includes a full audio record of the Questions about the Octavia Hill Estates including the supplementary questions and answers. The text of Andreas Whittam Smith’s written answers is below the fold.

In his supplementary answers, he referred to the Oxford judgement. That can be read in full here (PDF format)

Press Association
Martha Linden Church Commissioners reject housing sale criticism

Church of England Newspaper
Jonathan Wynne-Jones and Matt Cresswell Bishop says property sale will affect Church’s mission

The CEN has placed these Synod stories from yesterday online:
Rural discrimination claim
Synod plea for stronger Christian ethos in Church colleges
Convergence revealed in conversations with Baptists

The official report of the afternoon’s business is here:General Synod - Summary of Business Conducted on Wednesday 8th February pm
When noting the voting figures given, it may help to remember that the total membership of the synod is 466.

Archbishop’s contribution to the debate on the Bicentenary of the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Associated Press Church of England to apologize for role in slave trade
BBC Church apologises for slave trade
ekklesia Church of England apologises for part in slave trade

Answer to Questions 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25
As members of Synod know, the Commissioners’ Assets Committee decided last year to market the freeholds of their remaining properties on the Octavia Hill Estates. The Committee’s decision was taken as part of its overall investment strategy and reflected the fact the Commissioners are not suitable owners of such assets, lacking the economies of scale and the sources of funding avilable to housing associations and to publicly quoted companies specialising in this field.

Last week, the Committee met to review the bids received and Synod will understand that we were faced with an extremely sensitive and difficult decision. The Commissioners are not a housing charity and have a clear legal duty to manage their investments to support the mission of the Church throughout the whole country. In particular, charity law requires trustees not to sell land or buildings at under value.

The Committee also carefully considered the nature of the bidders in terms of their potential impact on the estates and its tenants. The offers on the table were from private landlords, housing associations and joint ventures between the two. From the research we conducted into each of the offers the Committee noted that there was, by and large, not a significant difference in the way these different types of bidders were proposing to manage the estates.

After much deliberation, the Committee agreed to accept the offer from a 50/50 joint venture between Genesis Housing Group, a registered social landlord that owns and manages 41,000 homes across London and the South East, and Grainger Trust, a publicly quoted company which owns over 12,000 residential units. The Committee believed that this bid was the best in all material respects.

From the outset of this process, the Commissioners have been open with residents and other stakeholders. We have welcomed the subsequent dialogue and have given interested groups and individuals every opportunity to make representations. We believe the current sale will have the benefit of both meeting our obligations and being a positive outcome for residents. The estates will now be managed by a housing association, which is more likely to be able to invest in the estates for the future. Rental policy will be a matter for the new owners, and will not be a condition of the sale although it is subject to the rights and obligations of the existing tenancies. Over 50% of those tenancies benefit from either rental or tenure security and in many cases both. The Committee is satisfied that the management of these estates by the new owners will be in accordance with best practice in the housing association sector.

Answer to Q21
The concern of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, having inherited certain London property, was to provide decent accommodation for the working classes. My predecessor wrote in 1934 that “it is the Commissioners’ policy to act as public-spirited landowners. It must be understood, however, that they have no funds especially applicable to housing… They are not, as is sometimes supposed, entirely free to sacrifice the objects entrusted to their beneficence in order to help other causes, however excellent or deserving of financial support.”

Octavia Hill helped the Commissioners manage their properties, on the basis that the landlord is not merely a rent collector but responsible for the spiritual and moral well-being of its tenants. her concern was to provide well-managed housing for the deserving poor as long as they paid an economic rent so their souls were not corrupted by receiving something for nothing.

Answer to Q23
The Commissioners’s policy statement of 2001 set out the basis of future rental policy onthe estates and has been adhered to. In addition, since 2002 the Commissioners have undertaken approximately £20 million of improvements to the estates. When this statement was issued the Commissioners undertook to keep their policy towards the estates under regular review, alongside their ongoing review of all their investment assets.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 11:36am GMT
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Categorised as: General Synod
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