Controversial church plans approved

A CONTROVERSIAL planning application to convert a former Gorleston church into flats and five terraced houses has won approval, despite fierce opposition from neighbours.

A CONTROVERSIAL planning application to convert a former Gorleston church into flats and five terraced houses has won approval, despite fierce opposition from neighbours.

During a heated planning meeting on Tuesday chairman Charles Reynolds was forced to call for order four times, as objectors called on borough councillors to refuse the Breitling Homes scheme, claiming it would destroy their community.

Branded an “ill advised development” by opponents, the scheme to convert the former United Reformed Church on Back Chapel Lane/Garnham Road originally went before the committee in July.

However, objectors complained the council had not given them enough time to prepare a case against it, and it was decided to bring it back before the committee.

Speaking on behalf of more than 20, Mike Higgins of Garnham Road, reeled off a series of objections including problems with parking, traffic, access, privacy, refuse collection, road safety and drainage.

Mr Higgins said: “Breitling Homes wants to make profit by building as much in this small space as possible. Everyone knows Back Chapel Lane is dangerous and everyone fights for space on the road and this is what we have to live with. The fact is this area will be massively changed if this goes ahead.

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“There is no pavement on one side of Back Chapel Lane, people walk straight from their back gates and on to the road taking their lives in their hands.

“This chapel should stay and be used for the community. In Gorleston we have no places for kids to go. Our lives will be destroyed if this development goes ahead.”

The application for five three-bedroom houses and a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats includes car parking.

Labour councillor Mick Castle challenged Mr Higgins request for the site to be used for the community. He said: “The number of vehicles would be significantly higher if it was turned into a gym or community centre.”

A handful of residents loudly interrupted Mr Castle, claiming housing would attract more traffic than a community centre.

Residents showed photographs of Back Chapel Lane taken on a morning and claimed the development would block out all natural light. One said: “Who is going to pay for my increased electricity bills? I will be condemned to a life of darkness.”

Conservative councillor Barry Cunniffe questioned the argument saying the new development would not cast shadows.

But Mr Higgins replied: “With all due respect, it's a fickle argument.”

Aldreds director Mark Duffield spoke on behalf of the United Reformed Church which owns the site. He said he had seen three proposals for the site and was baffled why residents were still objecting to the scheme.

He said: “We should remember the existing use has created, and still could create, large traffic movements. The building has been under-utilised and there is no shortage of community space in the borough. The scheme is well balanced, well designed and ticks all the boxes.”

Mr Castle said: “We've heard an awful lot of talk and scare stories but the fact is we have a redundant church and on the material facts of the case I can see no reason for objection. Highways don't have a problem and people can sit in the public gallery and talk about people getting hit and killed willy-nilly but the fact is by using the church as a community centre with traffic coming constantly you could have more concern then than you do now.”

But before Mr Castle could finish his speech, one resident shouted “You must be blind,” another asked “What right do you have to destroy our community”.

The application was approved by seven votes to four, subject to conditions.