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Campaigners hope to save old Gravesend Gurdwara from being demolished and turned into flats

By Chris Hunter

"Move on" is the message from Gravesend Gurdwara's president to opponents of a plan to demolish the old Gravesend Gurdwara and build apartments.

"Not so fast" is the reply from campaigners hoping to save the former Sikh temple, previously a church, built in Clarence Place in 1873.

The two camps were digging in following Gravesham council regulatory board’s decision at its latest meeting to approve plans to bulldoze the Grade II listed building and convert it into 19 apartments.

The former Sikh temple, originally Milton Congregational Church
The former Sikh temple, originally Milton Congregational Church

And while the Gurdwara management committee is calling on everyone to respect the planning decision, they can expect the fight to rumble on, as those fighting to save the landmark are refusing to be cowed and state the board’s approval is not official permission.

To demolish the building now, they warn, would be an illegal act.

Nevertheless, Gurdwara president Ajaib Singh Cheema sounded equally bullish in a statement issued on behalf of his management committee.

“It has taken 10 years to reach this point and we now appeal to all sections of the community to accept and respect the democratic decision of the council,” he said, adding: “In the last few months we have taken careful note of the campaign by some local residents to oppose the plans.

“We have chosen not to respond because we value and respect our democratic values and freedom of speech.

“We also acknowledge the role of elected councillors to represent the views and thoughts of their constituents.

Gurdwara president Ajaib Singh Cheema
Gurdwara president Ajaib Singh Cheema

“In our view this has been undertaken effectively over a period of 10 years.

“We now appeal to all sections of the community to accept and respect the democratic decision taken by Gravesham council and to move on.”

The committee states the scheme - in the Windmill Hill Conservation Area - will be a “quality housing development” and “give priority to those who live in Gravesham and need housing”.

But campaigners note this is not a promise to provide affordable housing.

“It’s not a scheme for affordable housing and they’re making no affordable housing contribution,” stated Neege Allen Navarria, of Gravesend Futures, a collective which promotes good development, fighting alongside Windmill Hill community group Sulman 150.

And he added: “The important message is - this building cannot be demolished now.

"It's not a scheme for affordable housing and they're making no affordable housing contribution" - Neege Allen Navarria

"They have to wait until there’s formal planning permission. Otherwise it’s an illegal act.”

Mr Navarria said official approval would be subject to Section 106 agreements and a potential investigation into due diligence.

Those behind the scheme can rest assured, the merest hint of a slip up in procedure could give opponents a the upper hand in a judicial review.

If one is launched, a potential argument would revolve around the presumption that historic buildings should be retained where possible.

"To not retain it you have to demonstrate there’s no hope of retaining it,” added Mr Navarria.

“You need to demonstrate it technically can’t be refurbished and that there’s nobody interested in doing it.

Neege Allen Navarria
Neege Allen Navarria

“Studies have been submitted that show it can be refurbished and people have come forward with offers - one of them for apartments, and the other one for a business and community use.”

The latter scheme would include a proposal to house items from the collection of Gravesend historian Tony Larkin, who died last year.

But that idea seems a pipe dream with planners keen to press ahead with the current application.

“I’m not surprised,” lamented Mr Navarria.

“The council work on the basis that if someone is going to build houses then we need more houses."

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