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'We don't have the money to prepare it': Priest's bid to bulldoze Church to build house derailed

by Lydia Davies

A priest's proposal to convert a disused church in Rough Common, near Canterbury, into a residential home has been rejected after an appeal.

Reverend Peter Harnden had sought to demolish St Gabriel's Church, often referred to as a 'tin tabernacle,' for the construction of a family dwelling on behalf of the Church of England.

The Canterbury City Council initially denied outline planning permission, voicing concerns about losing a valuable community asset.

Despite congregations ceasing since the building's closure in March 2020 due to the pandemic, the planning Inspectorate also dismissed Harnden's subsequent appeal. The decision focused on potential environmental threats to the nearby Stodmarsh Nature Reserve, particularly regarding water quality.

The Planning Inspectorate told KentOnline: “Given the location of the development... there is therefore a pathway for the proposal to affect water quality within the Stodmarsh designated sites.”

In his communication with the inspectorate, Rev Harnden outlined the financial motivations behind his proposal: “In light of their dire financial state, the Parochial Church Council resolved to dispose of St Gabriel’s hut by way of sale.”

He had previously highlighted to KentOnline that pragmatism was necessary for survival amid financial challenges facing many parishes. "We have to be pragmatic,” Harnden said last year. “For parishes like ours there’s a very bleak future... We’re conscious of the fact that we don’t want it to become an eyesore, but we don’t have the money to repair it."

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