Victory For Community Groups In St. Albans Church Inquiry
Planning Inspector turns down appeal by developer
Local community groups in Chiswick have won their battle against an attempt by a developer to turn St. Albans Church into a residential development.
The Planning Inspector has dismissed an appeal by the developer on the basis that it would result in the loss of a local community facility for which there is "a continued demand."
The decision follows a five-day public inquiry in January and March in which the developer, Alastair Dias of Oaktree Court (Bedford Park) Ltd along with Caterpillar Montessori School , challenged Ealing Council’s failure to approve his planning application to build ten flats and a house on the Acton Green Common site of the disused church.
Mr.Chris Chauncy of SACA (St. Alban's Community Association) commented; " We are all delighted by the Inspector's decision and look forward to the opportunity it gives to ensure the best possible use of the site for the local and wider community."
A number of community groups gave evidence to the inquiry outlining their reasons why St. Alban's church, which belongs to the Church of England, should be retained for alternative uses. These included use as a place of worship for a number of other churches or as a free primary school or a visual arts and community theatre. Ealing Council also gave evidence in support of continued community use.
In his report, the Planning Inspector, Michael Aldous accepted that there is a “local demand for community facilities in what is an urban area where opportunities for new provision of this kind are very limited and the context is of a rising population.
“Furthermore, there is a clearly considerable, and quite deeply held, desire among a wide cross section of the local population to see the church retained for continued community usage.”
Referring to the claim by Mr. Dias during the inquiry that none of the community groups had a proper business plan in place ( the church would cost an estimated £800,000 to bring to effective repair) the Inspector said that although viability remains to be demonstrated this does not mean that it cannot be shown.
" Many also indicated a willingness to engage in the sharing of the resource with other community related groups, and several also stated that the redevelopment of the nursery school to an acceptable standard would also form an integral part of their plans, thereby ensuring the future of the facility. For many years the nursery functioned alongside an operating church and I see no reason why that would not continue to be the case if it reverted to such use, or the church was converted to a free school or even a local theatre."
During the enquiry it was stated that Oaktree Court had entered into a contract with the Church of England six years ago and the Inspector noted that while the Diocesan owners had welcomed expressions of interest from others, until such time as the inquiry finished, such matters had been placed "on hold".
Ealing Council planning officers had at first supported the planning application in favour of a residential development but when asked by Ealing's planning committee to review the potential for community use, came out against it. In the meantime, the applicant Oaktree Court had gone on to lodge an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.
Referring to the change of heart on the part of the Council, the Inspector commented in his report :"However, it is not unreasonable, nor unusual, for an authority to change its view, and in this case the Council became aware of a growing and considerable range of persons and organisations wishing to see the site retained for community use. Indeed, several of these indicated a desire to utilise the building for their own community purposes. This changed the Council’s perception of the application."
April 25, 2013