Published: 17:50, 08 November 2019
| Updated: 19:03, 08 November 2019
A popular church group has been kicked out of a former Dartford town centre nightclub after using it illegally for two years.
Several members of Redeemed Christian Church of God were left dejected as Dartford council's planning committee last night unanimously voted to reject plans to convert the first floor of the Lowfield Street and Instone Road venue into a place of worship.
It means a congregation of about 100 people will have to find an alternative premises to use this Christmas after 14 councillors rejected their plea to use the former Talk of the Town as a church over the next three years.
The decision came at a public meeting in Dartford Civic Centre and following concerns raised by planning officers and housing firm, Bellway Homes, over the negative impact it would have on the neighbouring Lowfield Street residential development for 556 homes.
Graham Simkin Planning's associate director, Paul Nicholls, who represented Redeemed Christian Church of God, claimed the decision was being led by a "desire" from the council to see the site sold on to Bellway Homes and assured the committee: "The church can co-exist with housing around it."
Redeemed Christian Church of God said they wanted temporary planning permission to continue to run their service until July 2023 and expand it to cater for the forecast growth of the congregation to 150 people.
Six letters of support were sent to the local planning authority by church users, who have applauded the positive impacts from the building's reuse in providing winter shelters and food banks since 2017.
But fierce objections were made by Bellway Homes, who said the poor condition of the venue "conflicts" with the revamp of Dartford town centre and new residents would be "disturbed" by the church site's activities.
Nick Challis, who spoke on behalf of the housing firm in the public meeting, dismissed the venue's value to Dartford and said: "The church plans to isolate Lowfield Street for several years and the existing use is of no benefit to the town centre."
His comments came just 20 minutes after council bosses approved plans to build 280 homes for phases two and three of Bellway's major scheme.
Another application - for 92 flats on another plot near Lowfield Street - was also given the go ahead shortly after.
Cllr Tom Maddison (Lab), who practices Catholicism, described the decision to turn the congregation out at Christmas as "harsh" but also said there was a pressing need to improve the state of the existing building.
He said: "It spoils the development and what's there needs to go."
Planning officers also expressed fears that granting temporary permission would make it difficult for the building to be reacquired by the council for any future redevelopment, particularly if the congregation continues to grow.
Representatives of the church previously said they felt "disappointed" that the planners failed to recognise the "important" role the group plays in the town.
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter