A “thriving” hub at the heart of a community in Fulwood will be lost if a chapel and parish hall are redeveloped, residents warn.
Proposals to demolish St Martin’s Chapel and Parish Hall in Broadway to make way for a new chapel hall and 14 new homes are sitting with planners at Preston City Council.
But Vicar of Broughton, Father Shaun Baldwin, who oversees St Martin’s, says the redevelopment will ‘better serve the needs of the parish’ with the current building not for purpose or financially viable.
Neighbours, for whom the church complex is a social focal point, claim they were not given the chance to fund-raise to save the centre as a first point of call before plans were lodged to redevelop the site.
But Fr Shaun says that the cost of a refurbishment at £500,000, would be far too much for the community to raise.In his Christmas letter in the December issue of Broughton Outlook Fr Shaun wrote: “We must first and foremost be a parish faith community that is grounded in active prayer and worship.”
He adds: “We will only be of true use and service to the wider community if our common faith in Jesus is what visibly unites and visibly feeds us, drives and motivates us individually and corporately every moment of our lives, and spurs us to be outward looking, open and inclusive.”
Planning documents from the Parish of St John Baptist, state that the complex in its current state is “neither fit for purpose nor financially viable”.
The St Martin’s Parish Hall Complex was shut to the public on September 30. Before its closure, as well as holding church services, the complex was used by St John’s Bowling Club,
Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, a social club and the Hall’s Players, an am-dram theatre group.
As part of the proposed redevelopment a Guides Hut and bowling green will also both be bulldozed to make way for the new scheme.
A neighbour, who does not want to be named, said: “The effect that it’s had on the church is that its divided people. People have left to go to other churches.
“You need a community to have faith. If you haven’t got a community you’ve got no one to share your faith with.
“Everybody is just asking, what’s going on? Why don’t they tell us? Why don’t we raise money to have the hall?
“It has really affected some of the more vulnerable people in the community.
“Some of the elderly pensioners there have seen no support, no help coming to terms with it. Not everyone can get to the alternative churches.”
Fr Shaun said: “The mission of the parish of St John Baptist, Broughton is to make Jesus Christ known though our joyful, loving worship and service.
“This exciting new development will continue the vision and drive of those parishioners who in the mid 20th century set out to build for their needs at the time.
“We are now continuing this vision and wish to provide facilities for the 21st century that will better serve the needs of our parish and the wider community today and going forward.”
Howard Casson, a long-standing member of the Hall’s Players, is angry at the way that the church has gone about bringing the plans forward.
The retired chartered accountant said: “They kept everyone informed when they were shutting it but they didn’t keep anyone informed about how we could help save it. They say it’s in a
dangerous state of repair. It can’t just have become like that overnight.
“They are saying that it needs hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on it to make it safe. That’s not true in my view.
“They are not giving anyone the opportunity to stop this happening. They never gave anyone a chance to help to put this right.
“All the people who use the place have gone because they’ve effectively been kicked out. They shut the hall in September saying it was unsafe.
“It was used every single day of the week.
“What really, really annoys us is we’ve not been given the opportunity to crowd fund.
“This is about a church hall that’s been serving the community for about 60 years and they are destroying that community.”
The Parochial Church Council of the parish of Broughton St John Baptist argues that community groups which used the complex have all settled into new venues and “nothing has stopped”.
It also says that the 61-year-old “failing building” would cost “in excess of £500,000 plus VAT to refurbish and bring up to current safety standards”.
But critics accuse the church of allowing the building of falling into disrepair and parishioners say that they are sceptical that refurbishing the complex would cost £500k.
A resident against plans told the Post: “They have not maintained it. The quote is way over what a refurbishment would cost.”
Regenda Homes is the non profit housing association which is lined up to bring the homes to the land.
Expressing their worries over whether the redevelopment of new church hall is financially viable and therefore, will be built at all, those opposing the plans are asking that if giving the green light to the development that the city council would also attach a condition that either the hall is built first, or that the residential phase of the build cannot go ahead without the community phase of the development.
According to the church council it has consulted independent experts who advised that “the complex should be replaced with a new environmentally-friendly and efficient building”.
In a statement they said: “As trustees of the charity that is the Parish of Broughton St John Baptist, the PCC has had to consider how best we manage and use the assets of the charity for the benefit of its mission ‘to make Jesus Christ known though our joyful, loving worship and service’.
“We want to provide the parish with better facilities to achieve this goal. We are duty bound to ensure that the charity’s assets meet its aims and objectives most effectively.
”The church council also says it has had “numerous expressions of interest from locals regarding the over 55’s accommodation that will be built”.
Nearby resident and Hall’s Player Dominic Swarbrick says he thinks the redevelopment of the site is now inevitable.
“I know it belongs to the church but it is a community asset, everybody uses it,” he said.
‘A fantastic new facility built for 21st century needs’
A spokesman from the Diocese of Blackburn said: “The decision to move forward with plans to redevelop the site of St Martin’s Chapel and Hall has been taken prayerfully and with careful consideration of all options.
“The PCC has made the users of the building aware of the decision and has kept them informed throughout this past year. This has included holding a parish meeting chaired by the Diocesan Bishop late last year. Users of the facilities were invited.
“The PCC is pleased to note that most of the users have already made alternative arrangements and many users have also said they are looking forward to returning to what will be a fantastic new facility, built for 21st century needs.
“As charity trustees the PCC has a duty to ensure the best possible management of the assets they own to fully support their key aim which is, of course, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“There is an increasing difficulty in financing, managing and maintaining a 60-year-old facility and our professional advisers have recommended that extensive work would be required at considerable cost, just to maintain the current facility.
“The PCC has a duty of care to respond to concerns and all independent professional assessments of the existing building have come to the same conclusion: that, due to concerns over future safety certifications, the best way forward is to build new facilities that meet the Parish needs and are affordable, whilst also being available for local community use.”
Parking concerns over new development
A template for a letter objecting to the redevelopment is now being distributed around residents in the area to lodge with planners at the city council.
Howard Casson says he thinks the proposals will get a lot of opposition, not just because of the loss of a community hub - but the loss of parking space, in part because the road network around the church complex is used by Royal Preston Hospital staff.
While the current site has room for 39 cars, the new designs provide space for 23 vehicles.
“There’s going to be massive opposition because of the parking,” said Howard. “I don’t think it’s enough.”
In a letter of objection sent to the Highways authority at Lancashire County Council one resident wrote: “Hospital staff have a total disregard for the ‘access only’ road signs on Broadway and the road is full by 9am and throughout the day, parking immediately adjacent to give ways and driveways making it unsafe to pull out at junctions.
“Homeowners on Greenway, Northway and Janice Drive have such a problem that many homeowners have for years felt it necessary to put ‘no parking’ cones outside their homes.
“This has resulted in a very public war of words between homeowners and hospital staff, with hospital staff accusing homeowners of purposely damaging cars parked on the street.
"As a local resident I am also aware of neighbours coming home to find a stranger’s car parked on their driveway!
"The building development will only compound and exacerbate this situation.”