Row over disabled access to church

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A three-year bid to improve disabled access at a thriving Stamford church may well last another year.

Stamford Methodist Church wants to build a ramp in front of the church at 11 Barn Hill, but councillors feel the proposal is too intrusive for the historic area. They were also concerned at its impact on the neighbouring property.

The application went before South Kesteven District Council’s development management committee on Tuesday and had attracted much interest, with the council receiving 18 letters in support and 22 against.

Supporters felt the scheme would improve access but opponents, including Stamford Town Council, said the plans were intrusive and noted the disabled could enter the church through a rear entrance.

The church has already amended its plans, following public opposition, replacing a glass balustrade with traditional metal railings, which would also be placed further away from the neighbouring number 10.

But Dr David Longridge, secretary of Stamford Civic Society, told the meeting the proposed structure in the middle of a conservation area would be “an unacceptable eyesore” that has already caused “considerable anxiety” to the neighbour.

Planning agent Phil Hutching said the church was used for many events and other options had been considered over the past three years and had been rejected. They included a lift, which tend to be unreliable and prone to vandalism and would be far more visually intrusive.

Town resident Margaret Rose attends many church events and told the meeting the ramp was needed for the equality and dignity of those going to the church.

“Proud church member” George Hetherington said around 1,000 people use the church every week and there was not enough room at the back.

Even so, Coun Jacky Smith (Con) said: “I cannot understand why it’s going to be so big and so cumbersome. It will be obtrusive.”

Coun Phil Dilks (Lab) said the impact on the neighbour must be considered, adding: “What happened to Love Thy Neighbour? It’s a church!”

Coun Judy Stevens (Ind) called the church a “victim of its own success”.

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) warned the existing steps are “dangerous” and people would feel left out, without the disabled
 access.

Chairman Martin Wilkins (Con), who has previously worked in the construction industry as a project manger, said there were always alternatives and also called for a rethink.

Members then agreed to a move from Jacky Smith (Con) to defer a decision for a maximum of 12 months for a review of its layout.