By John Martin
The future of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit hangs in the balance. With a running deficit of £100,000, the dean and chapter have pinned their hopes on a plan to build 134 homes on adjoining slopes, which they believe would secure its future.
But the plan met with neighbors’ passionate opposition, and Guildford Borough Council has overwhelmingly voted to refuse planning permission.
“The truth is this: that the cathedral faces the real possibility, in fact probability, of financial failure, of closing its doors, if this planning permission is not granted,” said the Rt. Rev. Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, said before the council’s vote.
“There is no plan B,” said the cathedral’s dean, the Very Rev. Dianna Gwilliams, said after the council’s decision. “We welcome more than 90,000 people a year, and the running cost of the building is immense.”
Unlike most of England’s ancient cathedrals, it has no historic endowments and must raise its funds year by year. It has been in a shortfall for several years. Dean Gwilliams says there is only enough operating cash for another year.
Judge Richard Vary, a local resident, disputed the notion that the property development would save the cathedral.
“This application … does not make the cathedral viable,” he said. “The council’s head of financial services found the enabling sum to be £17.2 million. This scheme provides the cathedral with £2 million and an annual income of a few hundred thousand pounds. It falls well short.”
He added: “It’s accepted that this development does not comply with planning guidelines: poorly laid out, lacking green space, less than optimal living environment, overlooking neighbors, significantly exceeding the local plan.”
Funds for the building were raised by asking people to buy a brick. But the building is not greatly loved, being rated as England’s ugliest cathedral. Simon Jenkins, a former editor of The Times, bought a brick as a youngster. He said the cathedral sits “lonely on its hill outside the town” and its access road has been “likened to the entrance of a crematorium.”
There are city-center church buildings in Guildford with a location and style capable of serving as a replacement.