THE newly-enthroned Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, has set out his vision to reverse the Church of England’s declining fortunes in Cumbria - but in an interview with the Gazette, he also reveals his views on a range of other pressing issues faced by members of his rural flock.

BISHOP James Newcome has a mild and engaging manner and his thoughtful response to each of my questions hints that he is unlikely to be a contro-versial prelate – as long as you don’t raise the subject of nuclear power.

On the question of same-sex marriages, for example, he firmly backs the Church of England line that they should never be allowed in Anglican places of wor-ship.

Even on the thorny sub-ject of wind farms, which is exercising the minds of many people in his diocese, Bishop Newcome is reluc-tant to use overly divisive lang-uage.

Instead, it is he who is ‘very torn’ on the issue.

“I am in favour of wind farms, even though they are very erratic and not hugely effective,” he says.

“But if generating that power involves completely wrecking some of our most beautiful scenery then I would ask questions about why they can’t be built in more suitable locations.”

However, raise the subject of nuclear power and Bishop James is more than ready to court controversy.

Indeed, his support for Sellafield and the prospect of another nuclear power station in West Cumbria saw members of Radiation Free Lakeland stage a demonstration in Carlisle before his enthronement last Saturday.

“Yes, I gather there was a peaceful demonstration, but I didn’t see it,” he says.

“But I will defend my position on nuclear power by saying we need it as part of the green energy mix.

“A new nuclear power station at Sellafield would also provide thousands of jobs.

“I understand people’s concerns about safety but God has given us the technology as a gift and it’s up to us to make wise and safe use of it.”

On affordable housing, the Bishop’s controversy quot-ient returns to normal levels. He says he would like to see second homes ‘restricted’ in certain communities to give local families a chance to get on the housing ladder.

As vice-president of the Lakeland Housing Assoc-iation and chairman of the church’s Mitre Housing Association, he is well-placed to understand the difficulties.

“I am aware of the problems and very troubled by them,” he says. “A lot of local people would like to remain in the county but can’t. I think, sadly, a big part of the problem is that second homes have bumped up prices, and in some areas, half the houses are holiday homes. I am against that in principle.”

The plight of hill farmers is also a concern, but he is reluctant to be anything other than mildly contro-versial when answering the suggestion that they and the wider rural communities have been neglected.

“I think there is always a danger when people make decisions in big cities like London or in Westminster that they don’t understand what’s happening on the ground, – but I won’t take a party political line on this,” he says. “My role is to be a friendly critic of whatever party is in power.”

Even so, Bishop James says he is relishing the opportunity he will get to speak out on such issues when he finally retires and takes a seat in the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, one of his most pressing duties will be to ensure the Church of England continues to play a vibrant part in people’s lives.

“Our vision is to reverse the trend so we see a growth in spirituality and in the number of church members,” he said. “From now on growth is the big word.”