Church’s future at risk without new hall – but village is split

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One of England’s most important churches could be ‘significantly damaged’ according to opponents of plans to build a modern new hall right next to the 12th century building.

However Rev Philip Derbyshire says without the construction of the planned Chapter House, the future of St Michael’s Church in Stewkley is at risk.

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Construction of a single storey 100sq metre Chapter House next to the grade one listed 323sq metre church would provide a meeting room, kitchen, toilets, storage and a lobby.

RevDerbyshire, writing in support of the plans, which have been submitted to Aylesbury Vale District Council, states: “Over the years many regular worshippers have grown older and found it no longer possible to attend services. This, coupled with the inhibitions of newer, younger families to join the congregation, is having a serious effect on the viability of the Church.

“Without action being taken now to reverse this trend the Church faces a dimishing congregation and serious financial problems.”

The Chapter House will have a fully glazed south side facing the church – one of just three Norman churches to have survived without additions to its original plan – with a gravel path linking the two.

A planning statement adds: “The proposed new building is intended for both church and community use.

“It is designed to enhance the current church by providing a serviced space more suitable for many of the current church activities that are curtailed by the inflexibility of the layout of the church itself. This will also allow for an expansion of the role of the Church so as to improve the organisation’s contribution to the community and its future sustainability.

“The church is generally in good condition but is unable to be used for what it is now required for due to the inflexibility of its layout.”

But Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society says it strongly objects.

Its president Richard Gem said: “We urge that the present application should be rejected on the grounds that it will cause significant damage to the setting and integrity of one of England’s most important churches.

“When our society first learnt of the current proposals, members of our Council visited the site and viewed the model of the proposed new building. We wrote to the Parochial Church Council indicating our difficulties with the building as proposed, and inviting them to consider whether their needs could not be met through a less damaging scheme. The PCC has not, however, engaged in further dialogue with us.”

The scheme appears to have split opinion in the village, with many writing in support.

However among the objectors is Stewkley Parish Council which states: “The Chapter House would significantly harm the church and its setting, and would disturb / destroy the anticipated wealth of unmarked graves and archaeological artefacts.”

They add that the village does not require another community hall in addition to the Village Hall, the Recreation Ground Pavilion, the School Hall, the Methodist Church Hall, and soon the new Scout Hut.

With no car parking facilities it says the area outside is already an accident blackspot.