Church op­ti­mistic arts cen­tre plans will get go-ahead

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Front Page - by Thom Mor­ris tmor­ris@thek­m­

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.

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