Community Groups Had 'No Viable Business Plan'

St. Albans Church developer challenges local groups at Inquiry

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The viability of plans for community or church use of the St. Alban's Church site in Chiswick was challenged by the developer at the Public Inquiry today (March 25).

Alastair Dias of Oaktree Court (Bedford Park) Ltd, the company which is seeking permission to convert the disused church into ten residential flats and two two-storey buildings, said that no proper business plans had been provided by any of the third parties interested in the site.

The Inquiry into the proposed residential development of St. Alban's church on Acton Green Common resumed today ( March 25) at Pitzhanger Manor, Ealing.

It had been adjourned following three days of evidence last month during which a number of groups who wish to retain the site for community use, stated their case for opposition to residential development.

The hearing before the Planning Inspectorate, which is expected to conclude tomorrow, is also expected to address issues relating to the section 106 payment to Ealing Council, the amount of which is being contested by Mr. Dias.

Questioned today by Mr Timothy Comyn, legal representative for the developer, Mr. Dias said that it had been noted by Ealing Council that while community groups had indicated potential uses for the site, the viability of their plans, taking account of the costs involved in refurbishing and upgrading the building, had not been established.

He said that as recently as 14th September 2012, following a number of reports to the Council, the Planning Officer Mr. Lee had sent a letter to all those interested in using the church asking a specific question relating to whether their organisations had produced any form of business or other plan to demonstrate their case for acquiring the property.

"I have not seen any business plan produced by any of the third parties who Ealing rely on as 'showing an interest' in using the redundant church and no evidence of a viable alternative community use for the building," he said.

Commenting on evidence presented to last month's hearing from a number of groups interested in acquiring the property, Mr. Dias said that SACA, the group which was formed for the sole purpose of resisting the conversion, "had not carried out any appraisal of the viability of the re-use of St. Albans for community use."

"As a developer I have some experience of viability appraisals. There is no reason why a person or organisation who wanted to produce a 'business plan' showing how a D1 use could be viable in the building is prevented from doing so by the agreement between my company and the Diocese. And the fact that no 'business plan' has been produced by any party opposing the conversion to residential, despite being asked by Mr. Lee to provide one, is powerful evidence that they cannot show that continued D1 use in this redundant church is viable or affordable", said Mr. Dias.

Neither of the church groups interested, the Antiochian Orthodox Society of Britain, or the Armenian Church, have produced evidence that they have the financial resources to acquire St. Alban's, he said. And in reference to the proposal for a community theatre, he said the logistics of the extra traffic and parking near such a busy road would cause " a lot of mayhem".

The condition of the existing church building was such that about £800,000 would be needed just to restore it.

Referring to Cllr Gerald Mc Gregor, who represented a group in favour of acquiring the Church for use as a school, Mr. Dias said it was accepted it would cost £2 million to acquire St. Albans and £2.6 million for a 'St Albans Free School'. This indicated the scale of investment required to put a D1 use into the building.

All of these parties had had nearly five months to produce evidence of the viability of their proposals, and in his view, none of their evidence came anywhere near demonstrating this viability or that they were able to produce a business plan demonstrating how their proposals could be financially succesful, he said.

The Inquiry is continuing.


March 25, 2013