A planning inspector has dashed the hopes of campaigners who hoped to overturn a council decision to refuse permission for St Mary’s Church, Devizes, be turned into a performance and community venue.
Government Inspector Neil Pope yesterday upheld Wiltshire Council’s decision to turn down planning permission for an extension to the Grade I listed building in New Park Street.
In his report he said: “I recognise that my findings will be of great disappointment to the appellant and those who support the scheme. On the other hand, displeasure is sometimes expressed when the decisions of local planning authorities are overturned on appeal.
“From all that I have seen and heard, there is sufficient common ground between the main parties to suggest that a satisfactory outcome may be possible through a revised scheme.
“If this addressed some of the more harmful elements of the scheme that I have found above it could tip the planning balance in favour of the appellant.
"However, I can only consider what is before me. As the benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the totality of the harm the appeal does not succeed.”
At the appeal hearing at county hall last week he said his job was to decide if the benefit of the project outweighed any harm that would be caused.
In his judgement he declared the scheme to add an open cloister, relocate the vestry and rebuild a boundary wall would be detrimental.
Among the reasons given were: “The development would erode the attractive green setting of the church and diminish an appreciation of this area of open burial space. It would also extend very close to the boundary wall and reduce the open qualities of the churchyard.
"In addition, the main meeting room and its eastern facing windows would be in very close proximity to the crown spread of an attractive yew tree."
He also said the proposal would disrupt views of the north wall of the church when seen from the churchyard and a section of Commercial Road alongside.
He wrote: “Whilst I do not set this support aside lightly, St Mary’s Church is a nationally important building.
“I have found that there would be substantial harm to the significance of a Grade I listed building and less than substantial harm to the significance of other listed buildings."