Thursday, 26 November 2020

Development of church hall ‘would reduce flood risk’

PLANS to demolish a disused church hall and build two new houses have moved a step

PLANS to demolish a disused church hall and build two new houses have moved a step closer after fears the site is a flood risk were dismissed.

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

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

The Environment Agency has objected because a flood risk assessment was not submitted with the planning application made to South Oxfordshire District Council a year ago.

Watlington Church Hall Concern, a pressure group which is opposed to the plans, says the land has flooded previously.

But now a report carried out by consultants on behalf of the church says the flood risk would actually be reduced by the development. The report by PFA Consulting, of Swindon, said: “For extreme events it is considered that the proposed development would intercept any uncontrolled overland flow and direct it into the proposed drainage system.

“The proposed drainage measures would therefore ensure the proposed development would have adequate flood protection for extreme events over the lifetime of the development.

“The development would not increase flood risk elsewhere and would reduce flood risk overall.”

Rev Christopher Evans, the rector of Watlington, who is due to retire next year, said he was delighted at the findings, adding: “I’m hopeful at long last that we may receive a positive outcome.” But Tim Horton, chairman of Watlington Church Hall Concern, said the consultants’ report wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.

He said: “Many people in Watlington will recall in February 2014 having to put on their boots in order to use the footpaths adjacent to this site.

“We don’t think that the mitigation that’s provided in the report will be adequate to meet the tests the Environment Agency should be applying. It’s not meeting the criteria for dismissing the agency’s very real concerns.”

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

In 2012, planning permission was granted for a £150,000 extension on the north side of the 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.

Watlington Parish Council’s planning committee has objected to the plans but says it is not opposed in principle to development of the site.

Mr Horton said his group will address the consultants’ report and pursue its other concerns, including the design of the new buildings and car parking.

“There are so many, I believe, in the church who do not want to see this matter progressed,” he said.

“With the prospect of a new rector coming within months this matter should be deferred.”

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

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