By the end of 1993, 78 redundant churches had been appropriated for storage, light industrial, office or shopping uses and 160 churches had been appropriated for residential uses. The commissioners' latest annual report—a copy of which is in the Library—contains details of the many and varied uses found so far for no fewer than 742 redundant churches since 1969.
The right hon. Gentleman knows of the case of St John's church, Hanley, in Stoke-on-Trent—a fine church which a commercial company wishes to turn into a climbing centre. Will the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow commissioners agree to meet interested local residents, the diocese and the local planning authority to discuss the well worked out and costed plans of the local action committee to save the church? Does he agree that it is not good to encourage the conversion of churches for commercial use when there is keen local interest in saving them for worship and other community uses?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am familiar with the case of St John's, Hanley. Although the friends of the local parish church offered an alternative proposal to the projected climbing enterprise, it seemed to the diocese and to the commissioners that the climbing enterprise idea was a firmer proposition. However, it has not yet received planning permission. If the climbing centre scheme does not proceed, the commissioners will look forward to the diocese's further recommendations, which I am sure will include the friends' alternative use to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would meet a deputation of interested parties. I shall be glad to talk about the practicalities and the usefulness of such a visit with an open mind.