Address to Planning Committee 10 June 2013
The Trustees were extremely disappointed by officer’s recommendation to refuse this application. The East Riding Conservation Officer concedes that the rear elevation is enhanced in the new design. The complete building is not worthy of listing status. The interior of the Church is not considered. Thus conservation focusses solely on the architectural value of the front façade so extensively criticised by English Heritage, and it clearly exhibits none of the finer points of building design or construction.
Much better examples of the Methodist tradition exist in the East Riding and nationally. The conservation department of the Methodist Church of Great Britain recognises this through assent to our project by the experienced national Conservation Officer Mr Ian Serjeant (a member of the English Heritage Places of Worship Forum): (I quote)
“I have now had time to examine the drawings. This is obviously a massive project for the church and the vision is to be applauded.”
As key occupants of the Conservation Area we are also alarmed at the regressive urban planning approach proffered by the East Riding Conservation Officer as demonstrated in his objection: (quote)
“…the replacement building would cause substantial and unjustified harm to the Conservation Area, a modern infill in an area predominantly Victorian in character.”
This statement is patently incorrect. Within the immediate vicinity are three examples: the unattractive Dewhirst factory and office block of the poorest 1960’s design; the architecturally unimaginative Wetherspoons building of recent completion; then the Viking centre – a row of 1960’s designed shops that clearly do cause substantial harm to the conservation area, not only by their design but because they are boarded up; additionally, there is the old Post Office – a building of some merit that is also boarded up – and I have been told in a letter from the Head of Planning and Development nothing can be done to force this building back into use. Other larger buildings remain unsold including Clarks warehouse and notably the already converted Methodist Chapel on Bridge Street.
The statement also suggests the Conservation Area is without fault and would not benefit from modern contribution. This ignores reality, denies opportunity for architectural improvement, and prolongs its economic deprivation. Furthermore, there is a danger that the existing Methodist Church will also be boarded up and take on the same sad status as the old Post Office. A recent appalling example worth recalling is the Methodist Church on Chapel Street, Bridlington. We are sure a repeat of that poor urban management should be avoided at all costs.
We can contribute towards the regeneration of the Conservation Area, underwriting its values through strong and modern architectural endorsement.
Officers excluded our consideration of re-ordering the existing church, the subject of a previous application to this Council and multiple papers of options referenced within that application. Sadly, English Heritage and the Victorian Society also chose to ignore these extensive re-ordering considerations, clearly not having read, or understood, the application references properly. The trustees have studied all associated options and costs for best delivery of services, scrutinised them and set them against the value of the existing building, all over a difficult 6 year period. It was concluded that a new build would give a defined result with few compromises, easy incorporation of energy saving assets, and ground floor access. This ensures a minimum of obsolescence and takes the opportunity of zero rated VAT on a new build.
If I may turn to Public Benefit - The Case Officer has seriously misinterpreted this key element by presuming that the memberships’ commitment to Driffield, as evidenced by this application to redevelop their existing site, is such that by moving elsewhere in the town there will be no loss of public benefit. We are best able to perform the existing and future community functions where we are, so a move elsewhere in Driffield was discounted. We service in excess of 2000 community members, through the pre-school playgroup, local schools, adult recreation and multiple booked events. Our petition has elicited 100 % support from these, also business neighbours, and Kings Mill School. Bookings are near maximum, demonstrating a significant social need and a committed response. Refusing this application seriously risks the continuation of all these community benefits. Methodist trustees have no fiscal obligation. Should the application fail it is possible that responsibility for the building would revert to the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Its status would be uncertain reflecting the many other large unused buildings in Driffield.
Other churches precede ours on the site. We are part of that development, improving and augmenting our contribution to the social and fabric framework of the town with a lasting legacy. We believe it is a timely opportunity to make an optimistic and progressive transformation within the Conservation Area. If you elect to keep a façade of a building, you will commit it to an uncertain future, without its valuable community contribution which will be relocated away from town, or we can take this great opportunity to regenerate a part of Driffield and positively develop the content and function of the Conservation Area.