Plans to demolish St Paul’s Church Hall in Chippenham and sell the land to developers will benefit the community in the long-run, says its vicar, the Rev Simon Dunn.

Mr Dunn, team vicar for the north Chippenham group of churches including St Paul’s, says the money raised would be used to improve facilities inside the church.

The church council has submitted an application to knock down the hall, in Malmesbury Road, and build five three-bedroom houses.

The hall is home to several community groups, including theatre company Rag and Bone Arts, and used for parties, workshops, fitness classes and support groups.

More than 300 people have signed a petition against the demolition and Chippenham Town Council has also recommended that the application should be refused.

Mr Dunn said the application was part of plans to use more of the main church building, which have been in the pipeline over the last two to three years.

He said: “The church hall is dilapidated; it’s well-used but it leaks rain. It costs an enormous amount to run.

“The only reason it’s open as a church hall is because it’s funded by the church community. It makes a loss and that’s not something that can continue forever.

“We either re-build or re-site. The intention is we utilise the church footprint to re-site everything by releasing the land for development.

“If you go into the main church, it’s one space. It’s very high, it’s got pews in the main area, so there’s only a limited amount you can do. The idea is to recreate the inside of that space.”

Plans for the church include a mezzanine floor to provide a hall, meeting rooms and offices. The church hopes to remove pews, creating a large space for groups, and build a downstairs kitchen.

The Ascension Chapel would be separated and used as a chapel while the rest of the church is being used.

The cost of work up upgrade the church is likely to reach £900,000.

Mr Dunn said the church hoped to make up to £425,000 on the hall land and the rest would have to come from congregation members.

He said: “We have tried our hardest to have as much consultation as we feasibly can. We have had time for groups to walk around the church footprint with plans in hand.

“The full intention of doing this is not to make a funky church building, it’s about increasing the opportunities we are able to give as a church community.”