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Sunderland Point church row rumbles on as councillor calls for "calm"

Councillor Keith Budden

A councillor has called for "calm" at Sunderland Point after another round of heated talks over the future of a historic church.

Councillor Keith Budden spoke out after Sunderland Point residents were once again divided over plans to install a toilet and kitchen at the village's Mission Heritage Centre.

Councillor Budden said there were "issues" at Sunderland Point and there needed to be "a level of calm" in the village.

Residents are split over the plans - as a council report said that 77 letters of objection and 89 letters of support for the new toilet and kitchen had been received.

The new facilities had already been given planning permission in August but came back before Lancaster City Council's planning regulatory committee at a meeting held on Monday, because the water supply had now been included on the plans.

Related Story: Plans for historic Sunderland Point church have "divided the community" - Beyond Radio

Sunderland Point Mission Heritage Centre (below) is a Grade II listed former mission church dating back to 1894.

Owners, the Mission Heritage Centre Trust, want to see the former church used for events, activities and exhibitions, so asked for planning permission to install a new toilet and kitchen.

But some residents are against the work being done to the historic building and want to see extensive repairs made as a priority.

There had been disagreements between Sunderland Point residents at the previous meeting in August, and they continued on Monday.

David Andrew, a resident who opposes the plans, said at Monday's meeting that the trustees "give the indication they are making it up as they go along".

"The building is deteriorating rapidly yet the applicant and the other trustees seem hell-bent on installing a toilet and kitchen, it doesn't make any sense," he said.

He called the plans "ill-conceived" and "illogical".

Four residents in total spoke out against the plans during the meeting held at Morecambe Town Hall.

Brendan Smith called for the Mission Heritage Centre Trust to carry out "critical" repairs to the church and said the scheme was "madness".

In response, Brian Holmes from the trust, who had made the planning application, said: "We are all aware of the requirement to repair the building and we want to get the funding to do that.

"We have carried out repairs to the front doors and extensive grounds maintenance.

"We want to carry out many more repairs but we don't have the funding."

Mr Holmes said a disabled toilet was "much-needed" on Sunderland Point.

He was backed by Edward Levy, a fellow trustee, who said the plans for the former church to become a heritage and visitor centre, and a place for exhibitions and performances, as well as an emergency rescue and environmental support centre, had been a well-publicised aim for the past 12 years.

Lancaster City Council planning officers recommended the scheme be approved.

A council report said "the proposed works are considered to result in some less than substantial harm to the character, appearance, and fabric of the Grade II listed building".

"However, this harm is considered to be outweighed by the overall public benefits of bringing the building back into long-term viable use for the local community and visiting public."

Councillor Dave Brookes, of the Greens (pictured below), agreed that the plans should be approved.

"The committee found last time that this was acceptable and I don't think there has been any significant change since then," said Councillor Brookes.

But Councillor Mel Guilding, of the Conservatives, said: "I feel that maintenance work should be done before any further works."

Councillor Guilding called for the repairs to be made a condition of granting planning permission, but she was advised by council officers that this was not possible.

Councillor Brookes said: "All we can do is evaluate the application before us. It's not a referendum on whether the trustees are doing a good job of maintaining it, or the use of the building."

Councillor Budden, also a Conservative, said: "My head says that we should support (the application) but my heart says otherwise.

"I think there are one or two matters that need to be resolved at Sunderland Point.

"It's obvious to me that there are issues. I think there needs to be a level of calm out at Sunderland Point. I'll be voting against it."

The committee then voted by a majority to approve the plans, with councillors Thornberry, Brookes, Greenwell, Redfern, Bryning, Tyldesley, King, Thomas, Frea, Lenox and Boyd-Power voting in favour, and councillors Cleet, Budden and Guilding voting against.

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