Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Church rethinks hall demolition and houses plan after objections

PLANS to demolish Watlington's disused church hall and build two new houses have been withdrawn

PLANS to demolish Watlington's disused church hall and build two new houses have been withdrawn.

The decision to rethink the development has been made by the Diocese of Oxford following objections.

Rev Christopher Evans, rector of Watlington, said a new application would be made that would â??take into considerationâ?� some of the objections.

He added: â??It is frustrating that we have had to wait this long really but itâ??s better to get it right in the end.â?�

Under the old plans, the hall would have been knocked down and replaced by a five-bedroom house and a new four-bedroom rectory for St Leonardâ??s Church in Pyrton Lane.

The house and the existing rectory in Hill Road on the other side of the town would then have been sold to pay for an extension to the church.

The church says its sustainability relies on the development going ahead.

But when the application was made to South Oxfordshire District Council in August, it was accused by some residents of being greedy.

Watlington Parish Councilâ??s planning committee said it was not against developing the site in principle but recommended that planning permission was refused.

Robert Barber, vice-chairman of the councilâ??s planning committee, said: â??Weâ??re very pleased that the plans as they were presented have been withdrawn.

â??Weâ??ll obviously be very interested if another proposal comes forward.

â??I think part of the problem was that a lot of people who supported the plans did so because they wanted to see the work done to the church.

â??But the planning application had to be dealt with on planning grounds alone and not in relation to the churchâ??s plans on how to use the  proceeds.â?�

Tim Horton, chairman of Watlington Church Hall Concern, which opposed the scheme, said: â??Obviously rethinking the plans in the context of the churchâ??s future, as well as the environmental background, is welcome.

â??The solution has been â?? and remains â?? for the church to sit down with the community and discover the ways everyone could be a winner. The church has little experience of raising money but the community has been remarkably successful in the past.

â??In 20 years Watlington has rebuilt a hospital, opened a pavilion and developed two new parks, so the experience to deliver is there.

â??I fear that the church will simply produce plans that express little more ambition than the last set.

â??However, we shall continue to try to have dialogue with the church and the diocese. Our members and followers will hope for the best but fear the worse.â?�

In 2012, planning permission was granted for a £150,000 extension on the north side of the Grade II listed church with a kitchen, disabled toilet and baby changing unit.

The parochial church council has been discussing the development of the hall site with the Diocese of Oxford for years.

The hall, which was built in the Seventies, was closed in September 2013 for public safety reasons and later cordoned off with railings. The roof was condemned in a structural survey that also found the building contained asbestos.

The land is owned by the Maria Cook Trust, a church charity.

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