CHURCH officials in a Worcestershire village are facing a backlash of criticism, after putting up the local community hall for sale.

Oddingley and Tibberton Parochial Church Council are attempting to flog Oddingley Village Hall for £295,000, claiming that it is under-used and financially unviable.

But the move has angered local residents who want to keep the facility for social activities and clubs.

The hall in Trench Lane has been used for community events for more than half a century and was even gifted to the church in 1949 using money raised by villagers.

Ann Perrett, of Oddingley Village Hall Residence Group, who is leading calls to save the hall, said: "The church council has really gone behind the backs of the local community in putting up the village hall for sale.

"It is a lovely, Georgian building which we want to keep going - but the church has stopped us using it.

"The church has been determined to sell the property. It has stopped advertising the hall for rent and even let it become rundown.

"But we carried out a survey of 90 local properties and the majority of people say they will use it, are happy to help run it and want it stay open for the community.

"What is going to happen to the £295,000 if they sell the building - will they gift it back to the villagers?"

She added that church council members promised a public meeting on the proposals but failed to hold one, and claims the church's solicitors found a loophole to bypass the villagers' efforts to register the building as an asset of community value with the district council.

The campaigner has also lambasted the church for showing a "lack of respect" by applying for a £6,000 community grant to improve the hall in early 2014, only to allegedly submit a pre-planning enquiry to build houses on the land in May 2014.

Councillor Margaret Rowley, of Wychavon District Council, is similarly critical of the church's approach.

She said: "The overwhelming majority of local people want the hall to remain a local asset.

"It is disappointing that the parochial church council has not publicised its intentions or consulted adequately with local residents.

"The Church of England has publicly stated its intentions to support local communities but this is clearly not so in this case."

Oddingley Village Hall has an adjoining two-bedroom house, which has until recently been rented out.

But both the occupier and groups using the hall have been ousted from the facility by the church, paving the way for the property's sale.

With a price of £295,000, it is described on as "a very unique opportunity to acquire this substantial village property with enormous potential".

Church officials however have defended their actions, claiming a sale is the "only option".

Lynne Morton, churchwarden of St James’ Church, Oddingley, said: "The difficult decision to sell St James’ Church hall has been made by the trustees at the end of a long process to try to keep it open.

"The hall has had very little use and has not been financially viable since the pre-school closed around two years ago and since then we have been unable to find other regular users.

"Despite expressions of intention by the local community, they have not come forward with any proposals either to increase the use of the hall or to take it over in a way that is permissible under charity law.

"We’re sad that selling the hall is now the only option but, subject to the appropriate permissions, the proceeds may be used to install toilets and a water supply in St James’ Church, so the church building itself can be improved for the local community to use."

Oddingley Village Hall and its adjoining house were built sometime between 1806 and 1824 and were used as a school for local children before become a community facility in 1949.