An old chapel building in Stevington is being held up by buttresses and remains a “danger to health and safety”, a meeting heard.
The former Methodist chapel, in Park Road, was built in 1863 but ceased use as a place of worship in 1957, and now Red Eagle Securities want to turn it into a three-bedroom house.
“The existing building’s structural integrity is currently compromised as a result of the failure of the roof trusses causing lateral movement of the building,” said Bedford Borough Council planning chief Janine Laver on Monday.
The planning committee was shown pictures of buttresses holding the building up and Mrs Laver added that a structural report shows it is a “danger to health and safety”.
“If trusses are not re-installed the building won’t stand up for any sort of use.”
The owners have previously tried to get planning permission but their attempts have been rejected both by the council and a Government inspector.
They had not, the committee heard, been able to prove that the building could take the insertion of a mezzanine to form a first floor.
Stevington Parish Council has objected to the residential use of the building which is earmarked in the local neighbourhood plan for community use.
There is also no parking to go with the building and cars will have to park on the street. Objectors claim that would make it a hazard.
Planning agent for the applicant Francis Caldwell said residential use would be appropriate given the former use of the chapel as a jewellery workshop and for an organ repairer.
“If the community wants to buy the building they could make an offer,” he said.
“It needs investment to be repaired as a character building and there are considerable benefits of bringing it back into use.”
But objector and neighbour Paul O’Flynn said: “One hundred and 70 years of Stevington heritage is in the balance.”
And he asked planners why the Stevington Neighbourhood Plan is being “ignored”.
“It should be a material consideration,” he added.
Mrs Laver agreed, apologising that a report presented to the committee had failed to assess the application against the village’s neighbourhood plan. She changed her recommendation from approval to deferring the decision.
Although she added that she believed the recommendation to approve would not be altered following that assessment.
Cllr Wendy Rider (Lib Dem, Brickhill) said: “Our own highways officer objects to this because of the lack of parking.
“I’m not sure how we are getting away with this one.”
But, Mrs Laver said, however the building was used, either as a house or for community use, it would not have parking.
“There is no way to provide parking when it doesn’t have any.”
And Cllr Martin Towler (Cons, Riseley) said: “It’s more about the preservation of the building. This is the only way they can afford to do it.”
The committee decided to defer making a decision to a future meeting to allow the neighbourhood plan policy implications to be assessed.
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter