ANGRY villagers grilled the new Bishop of Gloucester during a fiery public meeting about plans to sell church land in Willersey for housing.

Hundreds of frustrated residents packed into the village hall as Bishop Rachel Treweek faced “the lion’s den” – but her presence failed to prevent tempers running high.

One member of the public labelled diocese staff “disgraceful” while another diocese representative was heckled by the crowd for mispronouncing the village as Willers-ley.

Heated exchanges were plentiful as villagers desperate to prevent 75 houses being built on the church land clashed with diocese officials hopeful of flogging the plot for about £3 million.

Bishop Treweek attempted to appease the disgruntled community, stating “I do not want to over-house the village” and confirming “no sale has been signed and sealed” yet.

Her repeated promises to listen to concerns did not however satisfy some villagers who want nothing short of the church backing out of any sale, especially after two years were spent approving new homes in the village under the Cotswold Local Plan.

The meeting was the culmination of months of disagreement between the diocese and villagers, who claim the church used “clandestine” tactics in its bid to sell 35 acres of land known of ‘Terrify’.

Lord Geoffrey Dear, representing the village, and Bishop Rachel, representing the diocese, jointly chaired the meeting.

Both sides agreed that the church has a legal right to sell the glebe land – an investment asset used to generate income for the payment of clergy – and much of the debate centred around the diocese’s apparent “insensitive” handling of the matter.

Lord Dear accused the diocese of failing to discuss the planned sale with the village – as Church of England guidance suggests – and then issuing a “deficient” notice that no-one could understand let alone object to.

He claimed that developer Gladman boasted 350 houses could be built on the glebe land once an initial 75 were approved – and cited the case of Huntley in the Forest of Dean as an example of the firm’s aggressive approach when working in partnership with the diocese.

Bishop Treweek countered that the diocese was “sympathetic to the total number of new houses in the village” – and even stated that if 71 houses south of Collin Road were approved on appeal that would be “too many” if combined with the glebe land sale.

She defended however the church’s right to sell the land and claimed that the site was currently within the council’s approved local plan – although recognised this could change due to recently approved speculative applications.

Members of the public similarly chipped into the tense discussions.

Robert McNeil-Wilson criticised the diocese for “getting into bed with a rapacious development partner” and Jeremy Bowen told the bishop “the people you work with are a disgrace – get your house in order”.

One resident passionately added “why do we need to lie down and accept another 75 houses when we’ve already agreed our quota?” while another said over-development was “a frightening prospect for the village”.

The bishop ended the meeting stating “I have heard loud and clear the anger and frustration” and promised to reflect on the strong opinions raised.

Lord Dear said this development was “encouraging” and that he looked forward to hearing back from the bishop.