Would pew believe it! Grays church split by extension

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AN UNHOLY spat appears to have split the congregation at a Thurrock church with a battle breaking out over a planned extension.

The picturesque St Catherine’s Church on Princess Margaret Road seems an unlikely venue for a planning dispute but members of the church spoke out against plans by their church council, presented by their priest to Thurrock Council’s planning committee last week.

The church, which dates back to the 12th century, has limited amenities so the church council wants to build a ‘lean to’ extension – which will also cover up a red brick infill of a former entrance.

Plans for the build were outlined to the planning committee by Canon Paul Robinson and the extension, which includes kitchen and toilet facilities will be 27 sq m and situated at the west end of the building.

Rev Paul Robinson said: “This is absolutely necessary for the church’s future. We want this to be used in the wider community and it can’t be without essential facilities. School children can’t come here without toilets and that is such a shame.

“We know this will be a positive change for everyone and it has the unanimous support of every member of the church council.”

However, this wasn’t the view of congregation member Mr R. A. Hutson who said:“As well as being a villager and a close neighbour of the church I am also a long term member of the congregation and this extension is not to the approval of many church members.

“The presently used area for kitchen facilities is adequate and could be improved without affecting any architectural features. With regard to the toilet it could also easily be accommodated without affecting the architectural features.

“Unfortunately these suggestions have been summarily dismissed without proper evaluation or consultation with many members of the congregation who are opposed to this hideous lean to – which I describe as a B&Q extension stuck on the outside.”

A lengthy debate between councillors then followed, with varied views expressed. The majority were in favour of approving the scheme though the debate was rounded off with strong words from committee chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey who said:“We have 13 Grade 1 listed buildings in Thurrock, all churches. I nearly feel off my chair when I saw this application. I am absolutely disgusted with what is proposed. The design of something to go there should have some sympathy with the building. It is a much needed facility but the exterior design does not come anywhere near what the church needs and i will not be supporting this.”

However, the scheme was passed.

There may yet be more rumblings ahead within the church as Canon Robinson told the meeting: “We haven’t discussed this yet but the pews, which are 40 years old, may be replaced by high quality seating” – a statement which left his opponents in the audience shaking their heads in anger.

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