Church popularity leads to increased parking demand

An extension to a church in Essex to provide a community hall was rejected, an inspector fearing that the parking need generated by additional worshippers could prove harmful to highway safety.

The inspector considered that because of the remoteness of the church, and the widespread community it served, journeys to and from it would be predominantly by car. The church could seat 100 people and the congregation had increased in the previous few years due to the popularity and diligence of the incumbent. Attendance had also been on the rise because the number of services had increased, there were regular presentations by charities and local groups and a monthly film club met at the church.

The inspector recorded that the parochial church council had been pressing to develop the role of the church in the local community and appeared to have a clear idea about how the hall would be used. The use would fall into three categories, worship related, church social and administrative, and external community groups and clubs. She recognised that it would be difficult to quantify the number of visitors and therefore parking arrangements. Indeed, she considered that it would be unreasonable to restrict usage of a valuable community benefit. However, it would also be irresponsible to allow it to proceed without being assured of a mechanism to secure satisfactory parking arrangements.

Forty cars could be accommodated alongside the churchyard but the attendance schedule showed that the number of cars regularly exceeded capacity. The frequency of events attracting that number or more vehicles could increase as the venue gained popularity, the inspector reasoned, with a growing need for overspill parking.

She found that there was not the evidence to unequivocally demonstrate that present arrangements would adequately meet the parking requirements of the extended church and new community hall. In the absence of this assurance, she considered that the proposal could lead to the unsatisfactory situation of overspill parking on the approach road with the potential for increasing hazards for road users. Road safety was a critical issue that could not be overridden, she decided, even by the weight of community benefits forthcoming from the development.

Inspector Ava Wood; Written representations

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