Enabling vicarage and better access insufficient to outweigh harms to listed church

A proposal for a replacement church hall and another for a vicarage were refused in a Kent village for harm to the fabric and setting of the listed grade II* church and the appearance and character of the conservation area in which it was set, through the loss of the curtilage churchyard walls to create a new access for both schemes and the proposed vicarage itself. The inspector felt the public benefits of both schemes did not outweigh the harms, despite Historic England not objecting to the proposals.

200-008-029 (Image Credit: Sevenoaks DC)
200-008-029 (Image Credit: Sevenoaks DC)

The council and appellant had agreed at the outset that the grade II* listed parish church, which historically attracted Pilgrims travelling the nearby Pilgrims Way, was of high evidential, historic and communal value and of high significance. The inspector also held the high walls and churchyard made a positive contribution to the setting and significance of the church and character and appearance of the surrounding conservation area. The creation of the access to the new hall, needed to replace one that had burnt down, through the historic "crinkle crankle" wall and use of the driveway extending along inside the boundary of the churchyard would, the inspector held, be a harmful intrusion into the tranquil qualities of the churchyard and adversely weaken the enclosing effect of the walls. In terms of the proposed vicarage, the inspector considered that it would, when seen in conjunction with the church hall, result in the loss of an important open space and be detrimental to the setting of the church. 

Despite the many economic and community benefits that the replacement church hall would bring to the village, the inspector felt the case for the hall and vicarage had not been sufficiently evidenced as parking in an adjoining village car park was an alternative option and permission already existed for a new hall without the harmful access. This was despite the fact that the removal of a restrictive covenant regarding vehicular access under the previously approved scheme would cost the church an additional £230,000 and arguments put forward that the vicarage would contribute to financing the church hall.

An award of costs against the council was refused. The inspector accepted the council had erred in not fully weighing up the benefits of the schemes, but this did not lead to wasted or unnecessary expense for the appellant.

Inspector: Helen Heward; Hearing

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