Saturday, 21 July 2018

Council objects again to church hall demolition

NEW plans to demolish Watlington’s disused church hall and build two houses have been opposed by

NEW plans to demolish Watlington’s disused church hall and build two houses have been opposed by the parish council.

The planning committee voted by four to three this week to recommend a second planning application submitted by St Leonard’s Church is refused.

In October the committee voted against the original plans, which were later withdrawn, but said it was not against development of the site in principle.

The church wants to replace the hall in Pyrton Lane with a five-bedroom house and a new rectory. The house and existing rectory in Hill Road would then be sold to pay for an extension to the church.

About 25 residents attended Tuesday’s committee meeting, which heard the layout of the proposed development had been changed and the roof heights lowered.

Rev Christopher Evans, rector of Watlington, said: “We have taken on board all your objections as well as comments submitted by people living in Watlington and several further conversations with the district council’s planning and conservation officers.”

The houses had been moved to the southern edge of the site and forestry and conservation officers had confirmed they would not have an adverse impact on the trees or wildlife in the area.

“A sense of open space has been retained because the eastern part of the site will continue to provide a large grass amenity space for church users,” said Rev Evans.

There would be 22 marked parking bays rather than the current space for about 20 cars parked “haphazardly”.

“The development is to generate funds for a renewal project for the church,” said the rector.

He added that it cost £1,200 a week to keep the listed building open.

Gill Bindoff, of Brook Street, said the development would change the character of the conservation area and would be “very damaging”.

“The whole site, although not in public ownership, provides an important public amenity which could be lost,” she said.

She said that whatever the financial benefit to the church, the community would be paying a higher price. The committee was also told there were concerns about access to a footpath across the land which was well used by residents.

Tim Horton, who chairs Watlington Church Hall Concern, said the plans treated a stream at the site like a drainage ditch and the Environment Agency had objected because a flood risk assessment had not been submitted.

“These large family homes are not desirable in an area of flood danger,” he added.

The meeting heard the church had commissioned a flood risk assessment.

Mr Horton said his group wanted a new church hall, which it estimated would cost up to £30,000 compared with the church’s estimate of £500,000.

The committe objected to the original plan due to the impact on trees, the height of the buildings, visual impermeability and non-vernacular design.

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 church hall, which was built in the Seventies, was closed in September 2013 for public safety reasons.

South Oxfordshire District Council will make the final decision.

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