CAMPAIGNERS who want St Mary’s Church, Devizes, turned into a community and performance venue are vowing to keep battling despite losing a planning appeal.
Supporters of plans to extend the Grade I-listed church in New Park Street were shocked when government inspector Neil Pope upheld Wiltshire Council’s decision to reject the project.
But church rector Rev Canon Paul Richardson said the fight to get permission to use the building for theatre productions and concerts would go on.
He said: “It is a blow and a huge disappointment but the inspector did give us a little bit of hope in his summing up. For us to decide to make the church redundant would be a last resort and I don’t think we are yet in that position.
“I am very disappointed with the result as at the appeal it all seemed to be going well and the inspector was asking all the right questions.”
Tony Scorer, who presented the appeal on behalf of the Parochial Church Council of St John and St Mary’s, Devizes, was equally shocked by the decision, which came just a week after the hearing at County Hall.
He said: “My initial reaction was one of surprise, perplexity and disappointment. But the fight will go on. We have come too far to give up now but we need to speak to our architect and analyse exactly what the inspector has said in his report. There were a number of positive comments that we can take heart from.
“It would have been much better if he could have given us permission, but laid out a number of conditions then we would have known exactly what we had to do.”
In his report the inspector said he recognised his findings would be disappointing, but that there appeared to be “sufficient common ground between the main parties to suggest that a satisfactory outcome may be possible through a revised scheme”.
And, he said that if some of the more “harmful” elements of the scheme could be addressed then the balance could be tipped in favour of permission.
At the appeal hearing at county hall he said his job was to decide if the benefit of the project outweighed any harm that would be caused.
In his judgment 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.
He said: “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.
“While 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.”