Thursday, 19 July 2018

Houses set to replace church hall

PLANS to demolish Watlington’s church hall and build two new houses have been recommended for approval.

PLANS to demolish Watlington’s church hall and build two new houses have been recommended for approval.

The issue has divided the town, causing months of delays due to revisions of the plans.

St Leonard’s Church wants to replace the hall in Pyrton Lane with a five-bedroom house and new rectory.

The new house and existing rectory in Hill Road would then be sold to pay for an extension to the church.

Watlington Parish Council has objected to two sets of plans but South Oxfordshire District Council planning officer Paul Lucas has recommended approval of the latest application.

In a report to the planning committee, Mr Lucas said the hall was not an “essential community facility” and its loss “would not detract from the public, environmental or ecological value of contiguous areas of open space”.

The development would cause “less than substantial harm” to the character and appearance of the Watlington conservation area and would preserve the setting of the Grade II* listed building and safeguard important landscape features.

Mr Lucas added: “It is considered that, subject to the completion of a legal agreement, the public benefits of removing the church hall and securing funds specifically for the improvement and upkeep of St Leonard’s Church would provide sufficient justification to outweigh the identified harm to this heritage asset.”

Rev Christopher Evans, the rector of Watlington, said: “I’m delighted that at long last the planning application has reached the district council and equally pleased that the planning officer has recommended approval.

“We feel that we have bent over backwards to accommodate the objections from various sources.”

Tim Horton, of pressure group Watlington Church Hall Concern, said he was disappointed by Mr Lucas’s recommendation.

The parish council’s planning committee had said the houses would be too large for the site and the parking space seemed “insufficient” for the needs of the church.

It also said the development would result in the loss of an important open space.

In addition it called on the church to discuss the effects on a chalk stream with Watlington environmental groups.

The original plans received 25 letters of objection and the same number in support, while the revised scheme resulted in nine objections and 15 letters of support.

The church says the sustainability of St Leonard’s relies on the development as it costs £1,200 a week to keep the building open.

Planning permission for the £150,000 church extension was granted in 2012.

The district council’s planning committee was due to make a decision on Wednesday evening.

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