Grantown minister says it is hard to know next step for ambitious kirk project
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Big money plans launched in early 2017 to breathe new life into a church in Grantown have suffered a major setback.
A review against refusal for four homes on land to the north east of Inverallan Church on the town’s Grant Road resulted in the proposals being unanimously refused by members of Highland Council’s planning review body on Tuesday.
Applicants Reidhaven Estate had pledged to donate a large but undisclosed part of the proceeds from the sales to the Inverallan 20/20 project.
It envisages a place of worship suitable for 21st Century but also a vibrant venue “which can serve the wider community seven days a week, meeting identified needs”.
Kirk minister Gordon Strang, who watched the virtual proceedings, said: “I’m really disappointed that the planning review body did not give approval for what I still believe was a sensitive application that would have benefited the town.
“It was frustrating the committee didn’t consider some of the supplementary information that had been provided in the excellent report from Reidhaven Estate’s architects Moxon.
“And it was really unfortunate that due to Covid-19, Moxon, Reidhaven Estate and ourselves were not allowed to be present to correct some of the misunderstandings.
“At this stage it is hard to see what happens next. We have a wonderful building in Inverallan Church, and it has the potential to be an even bigger asset to the town and wider strath than it already has in its 134 years of existence.
“Without this funding, and with so many other pressures on the grant funding bodies and small charities like ourselves in the current climate, giving it a future becomes even harder.”
The Minister added: "I'm incredibly grateful to the support that Lord Seafield and Reidhaven Estate have given to the project, and all that they have tried to achieve for us."
There had been several objections to the homes – initially refused by Highland council planners using delegated powers in March – including concerns over the removal of 91 established trees. Moxon Architects had said compensatory planting would be carried out.
Committee chairman, councillor Alan Henderson, told the meeting: “You have to decide if the site is woodland, with the loss of the trees through development – does that preserve or not the setting of the listed church?
“And would the loss of the trees enhance or preserve the appearance of the conservation area?
“You have these quandaries that are going on there as well as the layout of development satisfactory in other respects – amenity, space, road safety.”
Councillor Trish Roberston said: “The siting of the church with the trees on one side of it is quite attractive.
“To take down these trees would be detrimental to its setting.
“The actual built houses themselves look cramped on the site – there doesn’t seem to be much space around them.
“They are very close to houses behind and the whole thing is detrimental to the area as far as I can see.”
Councillor Gordon Adam said the principal problem was the homes were in ‘a very confined space’: “For me it looks very cramped – had it been three houses I think it might have been a different story.
“I am not so concerned with the tree loss, because some of them are being retained and there is compensatory planting and I think the site is relatively scrappy in any case.
“I like the design of the houses, I think the applicant has taken a great deal of care in trying to present the fullest possible picture of what he or she is intending.
“But for me there are weaknesses, can we treat this with some latitude because of the perceived good it is doing for the community and particularly for the status of the church.
“The difficulty I have here is that it is all very aspirational, there are no documents that indicate a formal agreement that the profits will be shared, we don’t know how much those profits will be.
“I think under these circumstances it makes it very difficult for me to take a more relaxed view on the merits of this application.”