THE oldest church in Ilkley has started work on a renovation bid costing more than £700,000 that could see it ripping out its traditional Victorian pews.
The first plans for renovating All Saints Parish Church were mooted 11 years ago.
As well as replacing its Victorian pews with moveable chairs, the idea is to build an extension linking the building to nearby Church House.
Those behind the re-development scheme, which could cost as much as £750,000, hope to have it completed by Christmas 2013. Bradford Council is set to receive a planning application within weeks.
The chairman of the project steering group, Clive Brook, said fundraising efforts would begin as soon as permission was granted.
Parts of the central grade II* listed landmark, overlooking Church Street and New Brook Street, date back to the medieval era, and it is built on the historic Roman fort site of Olicana, a designated ancient monument.
It is also within part of the setting of the grade I listed Manor House, on Castle Yard.
Among the planned changes are new flooring and under-floor heating, lowering floor levels in the tower area and creating a new side chapel/meeting room.
It is hoped the alterations will allow the church to be used for concerts, exhibitions and other events.
Bradford councillor Chris Greaves, who has lived in the area for many years, said: “My main concern would be the sensitivity with which these changes would be carried out as this is one of Ilkley’s most outstanding buildings.
“Bizarrely the church was immune from view for a long time as there was a pub shielding it, but that was demolished sometime in the 1950s or 1960s”.
Regarding the possible tearing out of the pews, he said he had mixed feelings saying they were not integral to the building and he could understand why church leaders might want to be rid of them to give greater space for orchestras and such things.
He added: “I can see advantages for non-service reasons if you want to have a concert in there and to move things about.
“I don’t like the idea of replacing pews with chairs, but the pews date only from Victorian times though they will be over 100 years old.”