THE Bishop of Durham has announced he is retiring in a few months’ time for an academic post in Scotland.

The Right Reverend Tom Wright, will step down on August 31 and take up an appointment at St Andrew’s University, in Fife.

His decision will spark speculation about the future of one of the region’s finest buildings, his Grade I-listed home, 12th Century Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, which was already earmarked for review early next year.

The Church Commissioners, who are carrying out the review next December, said it will go ahead as planned.

The bishop has insisted that he and his successors should stay in the castle, where he and his wife Maggie have a six-bedroomed home, because it is a source of pride to local people.

Dr Wright, who is 61, said yesterday he was stepping down because of the difficulty he found balancing his demanding role with other interests, such as writing and teaching.

He described the decision as the hardest of his life.

A New Testament scholar with an international reputation, he has written more than 30 books and is a regular broadcaster on television and radio.

He will join St Andrews as research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity.

Born in Morpeth, Northumberland, the father- of-four and lifelong Newcastle United fan was appointed as the 71st bishop in 2003.

He said yesterday: “This has been the hardest decision of my life.

“It has been an indescribable privilege to be the bishop of the ancient diocese of Durham, to work with a superb team of colleagues, to take part in the work of God’s kingdom here in the North-East, and to represent the region and its churches in the House of Lords and in General Synod.

“I have loved the people, the place, the heritage and the work.

“I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear.”

Dr Wright has been outspoken at times, such as in 2008 when he was one of several bishops who attacked the Government for creating a “sense of hopelessness”

across the country.

In the same year, he also condemned an anti-gay movement in the Church of England as “deeply offensive”.

Most recently, he spoke in the House of Lords to champion the cause of new underground technology for the clean use of coal from North-East coalfields.

Lord Foster, former Bishop Auckland MP Derek Foster, said he had been outstanding bishop, a learned theologian and great teacher and pastor.

He said: “He has been enthusiastic about people coming to the castle. It was through his efforts entirely that Church Commissioners backed off from selling the castle when the question first came up.”