Unholy row hits parish hall plans

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One of Garstang’s best-loved pubs, Th’Owd Tithebarn fears for its future if housing plans are approved at the neighbouring St Thomas’s Hall.

That’s the fear of owner Mitchells Brewery which has lodged detailed objections to the planning bid by St Thomas’s Church.

The application is for the hall to be converted into four homes, and for a house to be built on the church-owned land between the two buildings which has been leased to the pub for parking for many years.

St Thomas’s Church officials are desperate to get the green light for the hall conversion project.

Planning approval would substantially add to the sale value of the site – bringing in cash which the church needs to kick-start building work on the mothballed, partially-complete £800,000 new parish/community hall next to the vicarage.

But Tithebarn owner Mitchells, of Lancaster, fears if the car park area it leases from the church is earmarked for a house as part of the hall redevelopment project, it would take parking spaces away from customers – and probably mean ‘last orders’ for the Tithebarn itself.

In a strongly-worded objection, Mitchells planning agent Alex Kinder, of Avalon Chartered Town Planning, said the loss of the car park would “more than likely result in the failure of the pub as an on-going business”.

Mr Kinder also lifted the lid on the previously-rumoured tensions between the two Church Street landowners, accusing church authorities of trying to use the threat of the planning application for the plot “as a means to substantially increase the rental value of the site, far in excess of the previously agreed rental.”

Mitchell’s objection is the latest twist in the unholy row over the church hall’s future.

Around two years ago, church members thought talks between Mitchells and the church over the future of the site had been successful, with a belief Mitchells had bought the site.

Work on the new parish hall had been authorised, but it was later revealed there had been no agreement over the sale of the old hall to Mitchells – and church officials were left with red faces because of the huge funding shortfall for the new building.

Other concerns have been raised over the highway safety aspects of the conversion plans. The entrance and exit to the proposed homes in the 
converted hall would be via what is now the garden area, between the hall and a neighbouring property.

Garstang Town Council has pointed out its worries about the impact of traffic safety in that part of Church Street, as have neighbours, in the nearby Moorings, who are worried about parking overspill.

The proposed new entrance/exit road to the hall emerges on to the Church Street/Kepple Lane and the nearby canal bridge, where traffic back-ups are frequent.

Mitchells fear the proposed parking arrangements at the converted hall (six spaces for five homes) are inadequate, and if all six spaces are full, any vehicle entering the site would have to reverse back into Church Street, adding to traffic problems.

The county surveyor’s report into the highways impact of the proposal, which will carry considerable weight on deciding the scheme, has not yet been sent to Wyre.

St Thomas’ Churchwarden Doug Willoughby, who is masterminding the project, referred Courier queries on the planning wrangle to Garstang vicar Father Stephen Grey. Father Grey was unavailable for comment.

The plans are thought likely to be decided this summer. They will be decided by the full planning committee at the request of Garstang Coun Tom Balmain.