Church optimistic arts centre plans will get go-ahead
THE warden at Ashford’s St Mary’s is confident that plans will be approved for the building to be redesigned into an arts and performance centre.
Warden Robert Blount said he is “optimistic” that the £1.3 million project will be given planning permission when it goes before the Diocese of Canterbury’s Commissary General.
It is hoped a decision will be made within the next month.
Mr Blount said: “St Mary’s is a thriving church and has had an excellent arts programme over many years. If the faculty is granted, the fabric of the church will be enhanced at the same time as increasing the public benefit of the building by providing a resource for the community in the form of an exciting arts venue.”
Construction work on the new arts and community centre is due to begin in the new year following the decision. Pews will have to be removed while under floor heating and new lighting will be added. An extension will provide new toilets. It is also proposed to move the pulpit from one side to the other.
Several changes have already been made to the original plans including more flexible seating to ensure everyone can see the stage, a larger stage that is capable of being raised for certain performances and the installation of a scissor lift to handle theatrical lighting and sound equipment.
However the plans have provoked opposition in several quarters, including traditionalists who feel the historic church should be left as it is. The Victorian Society, a national group pledged to preserving Victorian and Edwardian architecture, claims the modernisation plans for the parish church in Ashford town centre could damage the fabric of the building.
But Mr Blount argues: “We have received many messages of support for the proposals and over 150 people have set up a Facebook group supporting the plans. The proposals have been approved by the Diocesan Advisory Committee, Ashford Borough Council and English Heritage and we are optimistic that we will gain permission to proceed with the works.”
Ashford council has paid £100,000 for the project while central government has handed over £1.2 million. The rest will be made up by the church.
The Commissary General will consider the both arguments in a process which could involve a court hearing.