Published: 14:29, 13 January 2020
A derelict building which once served as a place of worship for Christians and later Sikhs has been saved from demolition – for now at least.
Gravesham council voted to oppose plans to flatten the former temple in Clarence Place, Gravesend, and build 19 apartments at a planning committee meeting last week.
Members voted seven to one to refuse the development, citing insufficient "marketing exercises" fully exploring its potential re-use.
It was argued the development would result in "an excessive and inadequately justified harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area".
Adding this was not mitigated by any supposed "benefits" of the proposed development.
It comes despite a plea from Gravesend Gurdwara president to "move on" with the building having now been vacant for more than 10 years and subject to various spates of vandalism.
But a campaign led by Sulman 150, the Windmill Hill Residents' Association (WHRA) and Gravesend Futures wishes to preserve the temple, which was first built as a church in 1873.
They believe it is an essential part of the conservation area and should be put to use for "community purposes".
Historic England had previously given detailed advice on the application.
It argued the building made a "positive contribution to the character and appearance and thus also to the significance of the Windmill Hill conservation area" and that its loss would cause harm to that area.
Nearly 200 residents submitted letters objecting to the planned development.
One letter submitted by the WHRA stated: "The proposal does not meet the statutory tests necessary to justify demolition of the building.
"Irrespective of whether you favour the application or not, there is a very clear legal context within which the decision must be taken.
"That context points only one way, which is to refuse the application. Your officers have come to that conclusion and we respectfully suggest that you take heed of their advice."
Speaking at Wednesday night's meeting on behalf of Windmill Street residents, Melanie Part, said: "Planning laws must be upheld so everyone has a level playing field."
Conservative group leader, Cllr Jordan Meade, who voted against the development, praised what he labelled a "common sense outcome".
He hoped it might set a precedent for protecting the conservation area, adding: "My opinion is time is not an issue when we need to get this right."
Council leader Cllr John Burden (Lab) was the one dissenting voice, having voted to approve demolition.
He said he did not reach decisions based on their perceived "popularity", believing the vacancy to have dragged on for "too long".
At more than 10 years, he argued it was time it was brought back into use.
"To continue the delay is wrong for both the applicants and the residents."
The applicants have the right to appeal the decision within six weeks.
More by this authorSean Delaney