Anger as council sells 400-year-old historic rectory

The Council Offices in Rectory Park, Houghton
The Council Offices in Rectory Park, Houghton
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AN angry councillor claims the decision to put a historic Grade II building up for sale as a £230,000 house has left Houghton residents ‘distressed’.

Coun Sheila Ellis hit out at an advert on property website Rightmove where Sunderland City Council is advertising for a buyer for the 17th century Rectory in the town.

But council chiefs have defended the plans, saying the authority will retain the freehold and that a sustainable use must be found for the property, in Rectory Park, which has previously housed council offices.

The Rectory, first recorded on the site in 1483, but rebuilt by George Davenport in 1664, was once home to famous rectors of Houghton, including ‘Apostle of the North’ Bernard Gilpin, and William Sancroft, who went on to became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1677.

“Why is Sunderland City Council selling the nationally important heritage of the town of Houghton-le-Spring?” Coun Ellis asked this week’s meeting of Sunderland City Council.

“Bearing in mind that this property has been part of Houghton’s heritage for hundreds of years, are you aware of the distress being caused to local people seeing it described on Rightmove as a house for sale for £230,000?”

Cabinet secretary Mel Speding said: “Coun Ellis has already contacted the council about this and has had a reply in her position as chairman of the Friends of Rectory Park.

“The council is not proposing to sell the property but is seeking a tenant who will be able to provide a sustainable end use for it. Clearly as the freeholder of the property, Sunderland City Council wants to seek out the best intentions for the property.”He added: “I can’t answer whether this is distressing, nobody has come to me expressing any distress.”

The Rectory building and gardens were purchased by Houghton Urban District Council for £10,000 in 1949. The grounds had been unveiled as a public park earlier the same year.

The property is being marketed by Kimmitt & Roberts.

The advert reads: “On the instruction of Sunderland City Council, we seek expressions of interest in this iconic Grade II listed building, steeped in local history and situated in the heart of the town.

“Presently used as offices, it has potential for a variety of uses, although those uses must, understandably be sympathetic. The property will be available on a long leasehold Interest, with exact terms to be agreed. Full details on request. Please note a full historic building report has been prepared and is available to genuinely interested parties only.”