Covenant stops council buying church for local community groups
PUBLISHED: 12:14 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:14 11 February 2020
A council has been forced to scrap its plans to buy a church building to save it for community groups after discovering a little-known rule that it can only be used as a house and shop.
Long Stratton Methodist Church, on Manor Road, is home to more than 10 community groups on a weekly basis, ranging from parenting classes to a slimming club, but its future had become uncertain.
The Methodist Circuit, which owns the modern red brick family church built to serve the surrounding housing estate, had said it was planning to sell the building, which is no longer used for church services due to a lack of attendance.
Long Stratton Town Council undertook a series of public meetings and an online survey over its plan to purchase and run it for the local community.
MORE: Council buys church to save it for community groups
The council has now had to pull out of the deal after the discovery of a covenant that limits the uses the building can be put to.
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Town clerk Becky Buck said: "Unbeknown to the council at the time of making an offer, the building has a covenant attached to it which meant that the building can only be used as a single private dwelling and retail shop.
"Although this covenant has been breached for many years it was professional legal advice provided to Long Stratton Town Council that advised against purchasing the building."
She said having the covenant removed would be "an expensive and time-consuming process". The Methodist Circuit has said it is also unable to undertake its removal.
The council has explored the option of defective title indemnity cover against any risk of a breach of covenant, but legal advice was that in the event of a claim they would have to cease using the building for the council's intended use.
"We would likely have to sell the building to mitigate our loss," she added.
The discovery means the future of the building is once again up in the air with local groups facing the prospect of potentially being left homeless.
The town council will now seek to register the building as an Asset of Community Value, a process that temporarily stops sales of property so that community groups can put together a bid to buy it.