GOVERNMENT concessions to Churches and charities in the Community Land Bill announced this week have been given a guarded welcome by the Church, a Catholic Information Office spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Churches' Main Cornmittee, representing all the Churches in negotiations with the Government, met to consider the detailed provisions yesterday and are expected to issue a statement shortly.
When the Land Bill's White Paper was published last September no concessions were offered to Churches and charities, whose land and buildings are often their chief asset.
The concessions this week followed vigorous lobbying by the Churches. M John Silkin the Minister for Planning and Local Government, met Church leaders in February and the Prime Minister received a delegation that included Cardinal Heenan and the Archbishop of Canterbury in May.
In Parliament, the Churches' cause was championed by many Catholic and Anglican MPs, including Mr Kevin McNamara, Labour, Kingston-upon-Hull Central), and Mr Hugh Rossi (Conservative, Haringey, Hornsey), who both tabled amendments to the Bill.
The Government concessions, which a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said were likely to be included in the Bill without much alteration, allowed Church land to be sold at market value for the next 10 years if acquired by the local authorities.
Churches will be able to develop their land for their own use without local authority intervention and will be ex An Irish bishop this week attacked the Catholic Herald over a report that London houses owned in his name were sub-standard. Bishop Thomas Ryan, of Clonfert, chairman of the A, M & G Property Company which controls 15 houses in Moon Street, Islington, told the herald that the article published on June 27 was "completely unjustified."
The bishop, who gets no financial gain from the company, explained that he had given instructions to his London agent, Ward, Saunders & Co, to maintain the properties in good condition. He refused to believe that the houses had "serious deficiencies" as alleged, but said that an inquiry was to be made by the A, M & G directors.
Bishop Ryan said he would have preferred a private approach over the matter instead of an article in the Herald. "The sale of the Catholic Herald is going to go down in this diocese," he said.
The bishop said this was not intended as a threat. It was simply that priests in his diocese had been upset by the article.
empted from Development Land Tax, which will be levied at 80 per cent and more for at least 10 years.
After this period the Churches will be paid "prevailing use value" for land acquired. This, said the DOE would be based on the value of land in the immediate area, For example, if the land held was in a shopping centre it would be valued as if it were shopping centre land.
Mr Rossi, shadow spokesman on housing and land, said the Government's concessions
seemed to he "a considerable climb-down" on their earlier position and that this was a compliment to the Churches' campaign. He said he must reserve his position until he had discussed the provisions with representatives of charitable bodies.
He said he wondered what was meant by bodies being allowed to carry out only "designated relevant development for their own use" as Mr Silkin had stated. He added that the possible change affect longterm loans to the bodies based on the value of their land.
Other Conservative MPs on the standing committee considering the Community Land Bill, to whom the concessions were announced, also had reservations about some of the provisions but generally welcomed the Government's proposals. Mr Silkin said the Government would have to have further discussions with the bodies involved.
AN URGENT inquiry into the continued maladministration of Church property and its sale to speculators was called for at a conference sponsored by the Catholic Housing Aid Society at the University of Nottingham last weekend.
The call came from a study group of 20 of the delegates under the chairmanship of Bishop Eamonn Casey of Kerry, and Director of CHAS until 1969.
The group — one of six set up by the conference to look into different aspects of housing — was given the topic "The Churches and Housing" to study, and it considered the role of all denominations.
It acknowledged that the Church's retention of ownership of residential properties had kept them in the rented sector, but it was worried about the incidents "which are not few, of slum conditions and insensitive and un-Christian management."