Church of England backs controversial housing vision on green belt land near historic Bede’s Way

The Church of England has backed a controversial vision to build 156 new dwellings on land it owns in Cleadon, bringing it into direct opposition to neighbours and an MP.

The land, part of a wheat farm, covers 5.97 hectares, almost 60,000 square metres or nine professional football pitches.

Opponents say South Tyneside Council has decided that half the land is level two (“Very Good Quality Agricultural Land”) and the other half level three, (“Good to Moderate Quality Land”) which means building could be allowed on the latter half under its draft ‘Local Plan’.

Concerns have been raised over air quality, urban sprawl, light pollution, traffic, noise, ecology, biodiversity, the removal of an ancient boundary between Cleadon and South Shields and the closeness to the Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve.

The land at the centre of the controversy is owned by the Church of England, who want houses built there.

Anger has been heightened because the site borders Bede’s Way, an historic footpath first documented in the 7th century linking the ancient monasteries of St Paul’s in Jarrow and St Peter’s in Monkwearmouth. Each June it is used for a pilgrimage.

An 800-signature petition against the proposal has been raised and will be taken to Parliament by South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who backs the protests and has expressed concerns.

She says the land is unsuitable due to the presence of magnesium limestone and carbon, and shares concerns over Bede’s Way and says the proposals have inadequate provision for social housing.

South Tyneside Council said ‘nothing is set in stone’ but the Church is keen for the scheme to proceed. In 2021 a housing commission set up by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said thousands of hectares owned by the church could be used to build affordable homes.

The 7th century Bede's Way runs beside the land.

A Church Commissioners spokesperson said: “The Church Commissioners are supportive of these proposals.

“As long-term landowners we aim to assist with delivering new homes and employment opportunities which support and enhance their local communities. This is something that we do across the country.

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“We do this by seeking to build new, and strengthen existing communities, helping to create and sustain vibrant and vital places.

The building would take place beside the Cleadon Local Nature Reserve.

“We are working with the local planning authority to ensure the most appropriate land is brought forward for future development to meet the needs of the borough.

“We are in contact with South Tyneside Council and will be engaged throughout the process.”

Local residents are objecting to the proposals.