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Formal consultation begins on reorganisation of West Yorkshire dioceses

The Dioceses Commission has begun the formal consultation phase of its proposals for the Yorkshire dioceses with the publication of a Draft Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield Reorganisation Scheme. Consultation on the Draft Scheme will run until 30 April, 2012 and follows consideration of more than 140 written responses to the Commission's initial vision for the Yorkshire dioceses in its December 2010 report.

"There has been a general welcome for the main thrust of our proposals," said Prof Michael Clarke, who chairs the Dioceses Commission, "namely the dissolution of the existing dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield, and the creation of a new diocese in their place. Our vision of a new diocese more aligned to today's communities, with reconfigured episcopal ministry closer to the parishes, and a streamlined administration, has clearly struck chords with many. We have nevertheless listened carefully to what we have been told and our Draft Reorganisation Scheme includes a number of important changes."

After careful reflection on the responses to the first report, the Commission has accepted the consensus view that the new diocese should be called Leeds (rather than Wakefield) and that it may also be known informally as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. The diocese would, as originally proposed, be configured with five episcopal areas.

The three cathedrals of Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield will be retained with equal status; but the Scheme leaves open the possibility of a future Bishop of Leeds giving Leeds Parish Church 'Pro-cathedral' status.

Some parishes not in West or North Yorkshire that might have moved to neighbouring dioceses will now definitely remain in the new diocese.

In most other respects the Commission has confirmed its original thinking as set out in its earlier report. There have been a range of responses on some aspects and the Commission will welcome further comments on these and the proposals as a whole over the next six months. This current draft reorganisation scheme can be amended in the light of further submissions.

"We recognise the short term uncertainties created within the three dioceses by our proposals," said Prof Michael Clarke. "This is an inevitable consequence of change of this kind, but we want to keep these to a minimum. We welcome the establishment by the three bishops' councils of a Preparation Group, which will enable the clergy and people of the prospective new diocese, with their staff, to shape its future by filling in all of the details that can only be decided locally."

Alongside the detailed draft scheme, the Commission has published its latest explanatory report; a statement of the effect of the proposals on the mission of the Church of England; and a financial estimate for the changes.  The financial estimate indicates that the new diocese could, within five years, cost about £0.8 million a year less than keeping the current diocesan structure. The Commission is clear that its work is mission-led and not finance-driven.

This formal consultation period will run for six months until 30 April, 2012. The Commission will then produce a final draft scheme for consideration by the relevant diocesan synods before it is debated by the General Synod. The earliest the scheme could come into effect would be late 2013 to early 2014.

Note The Commission's report, draft scheme and associated documents can be read at www.diocom.org/yorkshire.