March 10 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Campaigners fear a 170-year-old church will be demolished despite there being a viable scheme to save it.
The Grade II-listed St Peter and St Paul’s church in Birch, near Colchester, which closed in 1990, has stood empty for almost 25 years and has fallen into disrepair.
The Diocsese of Chelmsford, which looks after the Church of England’s affairs in Essex, says it has been unable to find a suitable alternative use for the historic building in that time. Now Church Commissioners have earmarked it for demolition, a decision that has to rubber stamped by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government before it can go ahead.
But Heritage groups, such as The Victorian Society and the Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust, say church bosses should reconsider their decision in the light of potential new customers - Gary Cottee and his family - coming forward, who want to restore and convert it into a home.
According to Mr Cottee, a local builder, his designs involve removing the southern aisle of the church but keeping the spire and main facades in place. He says the vast majority of people in the village are supportive of his plans.
“There are some people who only want to see a church used for its original purposes but most people understand the landmark can only be preserved by finding an alternative use,” he said.
“I would like to restore the building for my family to live in and not for profit to sell on.”
However, Church Commissioners have decided this current plan is not “viable or sustainable” - a view that has angered conservation groups.
“We are mystified at the decision of the Church Commissioners to press ahead with the demolition of St Peter’s, a beautiful and nationally important building when there is now a viable scheme for its preservation,” said Tom Ashley, a churches conservation adviser at the Victorian Society.
A spokesman for the Chelmsford Diocese said the organisation supported the demolition plans and added: “St Peter’s church building in Birch has been closed and not used for worship for nearly 25 years. During this time Chelmsford Diocese has consulted with interested parties such as local councils and other representative organisations and invited them to make suggestions as to how the building might be used. However, in spite of several major efforts, a suitable alternative has not been found.”
She added: “The Closed Churches Committee of the Church Commissioners decided that the recent proposals to convert the building into a home were not financially viable or sustainable, and would have led to a further lengthy period of uncertainty about the future of the church.
“The final decision and next steps depend on Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.”