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DIVINE DRAMA: Plan to build four-storey church in Berkhamsted town centre causes controversy

 Published on: 7th March 2024   |   By: Bryn Holmes   |   Category: Uncategorized

The proposed redevelopment of a church in Berkhamsted town centre is causing controversy in the local community.

Under plans submitted to Dacorum Borough Council (DBC) in January, the two-storey Kings Road Church (KRC) would be demolished and replaced with a larger four-storey building.

The new building’s interior would feature a ground-floor café, an auditorium capable of holding up to 240 people on the first floor, a teaching area on the second floor, and offices on the third floor.

The new building would cover most of the existing site, which also means that the plans only include three parking spaces.

The expectation is that most people attending the church will not travel by car, as around 30 per cent of the current congregation live within walking distance of central Berkhamsted. KRC will encourage and support walking, cycling and public transport groups to decrease potential traffic to and from the site in keeping with the green aims of the town and borough council. There are also a number of parking areas within walking distance of the site.

A design and access statement, submitted as part of the application, reads: “The project addresses the pressing need for a new spiritual home for the KRC congregation, who currently convene at Bridgewater School.

“KRC already provides a number of community initiatives and aims to continue and increase their offerings in a busy, populated and growing town where some people and services are struggling, including a foodbank that has given away almost £25,000 worth of food in the last two years; a ministry that provides courses for those experiencing marriage breakdown; a toddler group which has run onsite for over 40 years; and decades of providing groups, activities and summer camps for children and young people.”

The proposal has divided locals, with residents both supporting and objecting to the planning application.

Kings Road Pastor Susan Gorst said: “A new building will create a centre or hub for wellbeing and improve care and support for those most vulnerable, while creating a link between the church and the community of Berkhamsted. This synergy with the space and the community will enhance the quality of life of the people of Berkhamsted for generations to come. We understand some of the concerns of the residents and community and are committed to working together on this initiative.”

Lead architect David Kirkland said: “The design of the building has been undertaken with great care, research and passion and has been designed with low energy, economic and ecological features in mind. All of this in keeping with the ethos of sustainability and longevity in mind.”
A comment posted on the application by an anonymous resident stated: “We believe there is a place for dynamic contemporary architecture in Berkhamsted. A publicly accessible building such as a church is an ideal opportunity to achieve this.

“Furthermore, we believe the site can sustain this ambition; it is prominent, located on the second most important street, where it will be visible from the main crossroads at the heart of the town.”
However, others have been less positive in their response to the plans, with particular opposition to the proposed building’s new height and architectural style, which departs from the site’s current Victorian aesthetic.

One resident who is opposed to the plans posted an anonymous comment which reads: “The building is out of proportion for a small market town and completely not in keeping with the semi-residential/commercial area at the centre of the town. Its overpowering presence will dominate this part of the area, and it also lacks blue badge parking.”

A petition has now been launched against the development, which currently has more than 470 signatures.

Resident Hilary Hartley, who has signed the petition, said: “I am signing this as it is totally out of keeping with Berkhamsted, on the main road into our market town.

“It will cause total upheaval, and there is virtually no parking provision when there is already a huge parking issue in the town. We need to preserve our old buildings which add character to the town.”

You can view the petition against the plans here.

To view the planning application, please search reference 24/00127/FUL on DBC’s planning portal.

Photo Credit: Kirkland Fraser Moor

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