Plans for St Mary's Church in Devizes refused
Supporters of St Mary’s Church in Devizes are stunned by the decision of Wiltshire Council’s Eastern area planning committee tonight to refuse permission for an extension.
The committee voted 4-3 to refuse permission as recommended by planning officers because it thought the extension would cause substantial harm to the Grade I church.
The proposed extension was the culmination of five years' work by the Parochial Church Council which, it said, would secure the future of St Mary’s.
While the extension would have provided an office, meeting rooms, kitchen and toilet facilities, the inside of the 12th century church would be used for performances for up to 260 people.
St Mary’s Rector, the Rev Canon Paul Richardson, told the committee meeting: “Without development of St Mary’s Church for community use it will be closed and its future conservation is by no means secure.
"There is no harm to the building; there is minimum impact on its setting and the conservation area.
"There is a clearly identified and acknowledged public need that outweighs that minimum impact.”
The plans had the support of many community groups and at the planning committee meeting held at Devizes School the hall was packed with more than 120 supporters.
Wiltshire Council planning manager Mike Wilmott said that while the council had no objections to the interior of St Mary’s being used for performances he said the curved glazed cloister extension would dominate the church and would be out of keeping. English Heritage also took this stance.
Mr Wilmott told the committee meeting: “This is a contemporary addition to a very old building. Let’s make no bones about it, this will make substantial harm to the setting of this building.”
He said planners were not convinced the extension was the only way to add to the facilities at the church.
“There is more than one way of skinning a rabbit," said Mr Wilmott.
"This is not the only option. There is no evidence that this is the only way that the future of the building can be secured and anything less is, frankly, blackmail.”
There were cries of shame from the audience to the blackmail reference and Mr Richardson said that was not the case.
Members of the committee who voted to refuse the application said they had sympathy with the PCC for trying to revitalise St Mary’s but said the extension was too big.
After the vote was passed to refuse permission supporters of St Mary’s vented their disgust and anger at the decision. One shouted ‘Is that democracy?” while another said ‘That’s localism in action.”
Outside the meeting Mr Richardson summed up the feeling of supporters to the decision when he said: “I’m astounded by that.”
Ted East, chairman of The Trust for Devizes, said: “It’s absolutely ludicrous that the committee should made a decision against the clear wishes of the community who have been thoroughly consulted on this proposal.”
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