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Northamptonshire church plans flout government guidance

Plans to demolish an Edwardian Methodist church in the Higham Ferrers Conservation Area near Rushden have been criticised as contravening both local and national planning policy by the Victorian Society.

Built in 1902-3 by Northampton architect Thomas Dyer, the Hope Methodist Church is a striking landmark on Higham Ferrers' High Street. Marked out in East Northamptonshire Council's own Conservation Area Appraisal as a building of merit, the church, which is notable for its exuberantly Gothic west end, has a powerful presence in its historically significant surroundings.

‘The Hope Methodist Church is a landmark building of considerable importance,' said David Garrard, Historic Churches Adviser of the Victorian Society. ‘The concentration of detail on its west front and the way it is set back from the street on rising ground make it particularly striking. It adds a great deal to the High Street.'

Yet the historic and architectural importance of Hope Methodist Church has not been enough to dissuade its owners from drawing up plans to demolish the building and erect a new church and community centre on the site. This, despite government planning policy guidance that the demolition of conservation area buildings should only be considered after all reasonable efforts have been made to keep the building in use, as well as the Council's draft Management Plan recommending that the building be locally listed.

‘The demolition plans are very blinkered,' continued Mr Garrard. ‘Here we have a handsome historic building which could be kept in use if its owners had the will. Surveys show that the church is structurally sound and by no means as dilapidated as has been suggested. It is certainly not beyond repair.' He added: ‘The loss of the church would be wasteful, counter to government guidance and very damaging to this historically sensitive area, particularly as its replacement is squat and shed-like and shares none of the historic building's positive qualities. We urge East Northamptonshire Council to save Higham Ferrers from this and throw the plans out.'

Tuesday 1 July, 2008

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