The Church of England Diocese of Leeds owns and manages the site of Hunslet St Mary’s Spire.
Leeds City Council (LCC) want acquire the land and bring the site into the Council Housing Growth Programme to deliver affordable housing and at the same time, use this as a way to the securing the future of the spire by bring it into public ownership in away that means it can be maintained for future generations. LCC is in ongoing dialogue with the Diocese to try and achieve this.
For historical context, there have been three churches that have been on the site to date, the first predating 1850, and being replaced by a second by 1862-4. This was demolished in c.1970’s and replaced with a new building. The Grade II Listed Church Spire dating back to the 1860’s remains in situ.
As landowner, the Diocese is required to maintain the site and the Grade II listed Spire and is looking to achieve an ongoing beneficial use for the site. Any use would be subject to public consultation and a series of approvals including planning and Listed Building consents.
LCC would be required to borrow significant funds to buy and develop the site and the initial proposal outlined the opportunity to provide 29 new 1 and 2 bedroom apartments on the St Mary’s site which would generate enough income to meet the councils borrowing rules to have the scheme paid for over a 30 year period.
Prior to commissioning the feasibility study, discussions about the site indicated there were two graveyards - one to the east and another to the west of the original church. Desktop archaeological studies have subsequently been carried out and now indicate a number of graves are potentially still on site.
Consultation with archaeological advisers identified the extent of grave yards likely extends to the entire site as there is evidence of the site being used as a graveyard since medieval times where graves were placed vertically. The full extent of this former use could not be identified via a desktop exercise and further intrusive surveys are required to understand the extent of any potential graves and subsequent exhumation requirements.
The process and implications of any exhumation would require further consideration and approvals from external agencies. The specialist surveys would be required to provide a comprehensive insight into the location of the graves - if they do remain on site.
In addition, outcomes of non-intrusive investigations suggested that there could be additional structures remaining below ground from the previously demolished churches. This would also require further inspection to ensure the site is made safe for development.
The structural condition of the Grade II Church Spire is a further key challenge identified during the feasibility study. The study confirmed that structural remediation works would be required to reinstate and rebuild elements of the spire. The detailed condition of the foundations of the spire are still to be uncovered and further trial pits and intrusive site work would be required to understand this.
It is also noted that the spire has suffered water ingress and significant work would be required to the external envelop of the building. The Potts clock would also require restoration to protect against further deterioration.
Within the spire, whilst the chiming bells remain, the large ringing bells have been removed and this would be another element to consider during any restoration works.
Concerns regarding the current condition of the spire and surrounding land are acknowledged and the significant local support for saving and restoring the spire is recognised by the Diocese. The Diocese have had sight of the findings from the feasibility study and as the landowner, it is within their responsibility to maintain the spire, and secure its future.
Whilst an appraisal of the wider site has not been shared, the Diocese instructed an independent valuation of the Vicarage building which identified a book value of £175,000. This building would need to be demolished to take forward any development on the site and such estimates provided at the time suggested c.£250,000 to acquire and demolish this structure to enable a cleared site to be brought forward for development.
Findings of the feasibility study, which has cost around £30,000 to carry out to date, present significant challenges, constraints, and viability concerns if LCC are to cover the cost of the borrowing for the development over a 30 years period.
The Council has asked the Diocese to consider the issues highlighted about the site and to advise on its proposed next steps in relation to the following matters and to:
clarify whether any additional funding could be identified and applied to help de-risk the site and support its redevelopment for a housing scheme;
take responsibility for undertaking and funding the further intrusive site investigations needed to fully understand the extent of remediation works and abnormal site development costs to take a viable scheme forward on its site;
clarify its position in respect of the value, disposal and demolition of the existing vicarage house on site; and
clarify its intentions with regard to the Spire.