Monday, 18 June 2018

Church hall demolition set to be approved

MONEY generated from the demolition of Watlington church hall and the construction of two

MONEY generated from the demolition of Watlington church hall and the construction of two new houses would have to be spent on the upkeep and improvement of St Leonard’s Church.

This condition is likely to be imposed if the plans are approved by South Oxfordshire District Council.

The 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.

The council’s planning committee is expected to make a decision on March 30 following a site visit but has been recommended to grant consent subject to a legal agreement.

The agreement would mean that any income from disposal of the land would be added to the permanent endowment of the Maria Cook Trust to be used only for the upkeep of the church. The trust owns land adjoining St Leonard’s.

In a report to the committee, planning officer Paul Lucas says the public benefits of removing the church hall and securing funds specifically for the improvement and upkeep of the church would provide “sufficient justification” to “outweigh the identified harm to the heritage asset”.

The proposal would not result in the loss of an essential community facility, he says.

The church says the development is essential in order to secure its future but the issue has divided the town, causing months of delays due to revisions of the plans.

Critics say the development would be too large and could set a precedent for building in an open recreation area.

Watlington Church Hall Concern says the hall is well used and should simply be rebuilt.

Watlington Parish Council has objected to two sets of plans. 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.

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