A disused church in Wirksworth is set be turned into an apartment and a bistro, despite fears over noise and privacy.
The plans for the Old Baptist Church in Coldwell Street, put forward by Eve and Thomo Barrett-Thompson, have been recommended for approval by Derbyshire Dales District Council.
A statement submitted by Indigo Architecture states that the apartment would be the couple’s “forever home for their family” and the main church area would be retained as a “subtle bistro” with no changes to the exterior.
It says: “Internal changes will be sensitive and non-intrusive as they seek to celebrate the building’s history and architectural beauty rather than alter it.
“Eve and Thomo know the area well and intend to regenerate the building and bring it back to life.”
The church was built in 1885-86 but was eventually closed due to its “diminishing congregation” which made it “no longer viable” and it was bought by the couple for £162,000 at auction in 2014.
The district council had discussed the plans in April, with officers then recommended refusal.
Officers had stated: “The applicant has failed to demonstrate that the building is no longer required to serve the needs of the community, that the facility is no longer financially or commercially viable through appropriate marketing or has been offered to the local community for their acquisition/operation at a realistic price.”
However, district council officers say that the applicant has presented further information about how the site had been marketed for sale and why the proposal should proceed.
A report compiled ahead of a meeting on Tuesday, August 14, where the application will be decided, states: “The applicant concludes that, as a church, the building was a place for congregation and it is perhaps most fitting that this bistro will provide an alternative setting where people can continue to congregate.
“The building could be converted to a public house but there is already competition between existing premises and the Hope and Anchor has only just reopened after a period of closure. Such a use could also generate more impacts on local residents.
“To this end, whilst a restaurant cannot be deemed a community facility in the strictest sense, it nevertheless provides a venue where the community can congregate to some extent.”
Neighbours had raised concerns over the disturbance which could be caused by customers arriving and leaving the venue.
But council officers feel that this area of Wirksworth is expected to have a certain amount of activity regardless of these new plans, however they felt that opening times would be restricted to prevent this from worsening.
The applicants had stated: “The bistro will provide food and drink with regular, low-key live music in the form of acoustic guitarist, jazz musicians and the like.
However, due to concern from residents that noise from the venue would cause too much disturbance, the plans for live music and background music at the site have been withdrawn.
Some residents had feared that customers smoking and talking outside the venue would cause a “significant disturbance” but council planning officers disagreed.
A sign will be erected outside the venue asking customers to “have regard to the neighbours”.
Wirksworth Town Council objected to the proposals, citing concerns over parking and the loss of the building as a community facility.
It said: “The applicant has not demonstrated that the asset as a whole is no longer viable, nor has the applicant demonstrated that all possible options have been explored to maintain a community use and therefore the proposal at present conflicts with the neighbourhood plan.
“The application, should it be successful, may exacerbate the already short supply of car parking in the immediate vicinity.
“Should approval be granted, it is requested that the issue of noise be addressed within the planning conditions.”
Recommending the application for approval, district council officers wrote that other former churches in the area have also been successfully converted to residential accommodation, including The Dale in Wirksworth; The Green in Middleton-by-Wirksworth; and on Bank Road in Matlock.
It wrote: “Given that this is a town location, where there are many community facilities, it is considered, less important to protect the premises from being used for non-community uses than if the building was a community facility in a village where such facilities could be fundamental to the quality of life of village residents.
“Therefore, on balance, it is considered unlikely that a more appropriate use for the building could be found.
“To conclude, whilst the marketing exercise has not been as thorough as would be expected, it is considered that the that the applicant has paid a reasonable sum for the property that would not have necessarily excluded other parties interested in the building for community use from purchasing such a sizeable building.
“The proposal will provide a type of facility that will serve the wider community as a bistro and there would also be some benefit associated with the employment it could generate.”
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service