January 25, 2017
Controversial demolition of Highbridge gospel church to go ahead

Controversial proposals to demolish a former church in Highbridge have been been go-ahead this week despite objections from several councillors and residents.

The owner of the former Gospel Hall in Newtown Road has been told by Sedgemoor District Council that he is free to demolish the derelict property.

Earlier this month, Burnham and Highbridge Town Council's Planning Applications Committee voted to reject the demolition proposals after expressing concern about the lack of future plans for the site.

But Sedgemoor planning officer Stuart Houlet ruled this week that the demolition can go ahead, via a General Permitted Development Order, which grants the demolition of un-listed buildings outside of conservation areas.

Highbridge town councillor John Parkes told "I'm more than a little disappointed that in this instance 'consultation' respectfully with our Council's Planning Applications Committee seemed 'tokenistic' to say the least and could even be deemed in cases like this as 'for information only'."

Mr Houlet responded: "In terms of consultation there is no requirement for consultation with the Town Council under the Regulations but we - as we do on other Prior Approval applications - have taken the view that we will consult out of courtesy and to allow for the local knowledge to be fed into the process, although the determination is within the scheme of delegation and therefore there is no recourse to the Planning Committee."

"However in this case the re-use of the building and its retention on that basis are not matters that can be considered under the Notification process."

"The Notification process is a relatively new thing - before all demolition of unlisted buildings outside of conservation areas were just permitted without recourse to the Planning Authority - it has been brought in simply to deal with the effects of demolition rather than agreeing whether the demolition should take place or not."

"Unfortunately the process tends to just increase expectation that the local planning authority will be able to prevent demolition despite not giving us any powers to do so."

Responding to a call from one local resident for the building to be given a 'building preservation notice', Mr Houlet added: "It is our officer's professional opinion that the building would not be worthy of listing in terms of any national importance and we can only serve a building preservation notice where we intend to support any potential listing. I can appreciate the frustrations but that is the position I am afraid."

Cllr Parkes added: "I am very unhappy at the decision. Several residents remain concerned that without future plans for the gospel hall site being announced before demolition, the site could become an eyesore similar to the derelict Highbridge Hotel site."


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