Residents split over apartments scheme to replace church halls

A COMMUNITY in Sheffield has divided over long-running plans to demolish two church halls and build new apartments, complete with car parking, in their place.

While 20 locals and a ward councillor have written to Sheffield Council in support of the scheme at Norton Church Hall in Norton Lane, claiming the current buildings are an "eyesore", objectors say the proposed 13 new homes would create traffic congestion and parking problems in the neighbourhood.

One objector said: "Additional parking would be created on the street and there would be extra use of the very busy road.

"The greatest problems currently occur during events at Graves Park and weddings or funerals at the church."

The main church hall fell out of use a decade ago and, since then, numerous planning applications have been submitted in a bid to transform the site.

In 2003, plans to build four houses and garages were withdrawn prior to being determined and plans submitted three years later, for 24 apartments in two three-storey blocks, were also withdrawn.

Then, in 2007, Sheffield Council's planning board refused plans to demolish the church halls and build 18 apartments in one block on the site, saying that the block of flats would be over-dominant, would ruin the setting of adjacent listed buildings and would have an "insensitive" relationship to its surroundings.

Plans were resubmitted the following year, which aimed to address the previous reasons for refusal, but councillors declined consent once again for the same reasons.

At appeal, a planning inspector said the previous plans were acceptable in terms of the appearance of the block of flats and the impact on the surrounding conservation area, but declined to overturn the committee's decision, saying that there should be some affordable housing provided as part of the development.

As a result, Sheffield Council's city planners have recommended that the latest plans, submitted by Barlow Building Design, are approved when they go before councillors on Monday, January 17.

In the report set to go before Monday's meeting the planners say: "The previous appeals were dismissed solely due to the failure of the scheme to be satisfactory in affordable housing terms.

"In all other respects the scheme was found to be acceptable."

While drawing up the latest proposals, Barlow Building Design held a public consultation meeting and sent out 350 letters to neighbours advising them of the plans, in order to gauge local reaction.

Those backing the scheme say that the latest blueprints are an improvement on previous plans and are also a "vast improvement on the current buildings" which have become derelict.

Others say the flats would be ideal for the elderly, would be "pleasant" to live in and would be "appropriate to the Rectory buildings and the character of the conservation area."

Ward councillor Ian Auckland says the latest scheme is "much more in keeping with the conservation area and is respectful of listed and historic buildings".

He added: "The proposal may involve the loss of some openness, but the low-rise cottage-style approach is supported."

Nine letters of objection, however, have also been submitted to Sheffield Council on various grounds, such as the potential loss of green space.

In advising councillors to approve the application, planners say that the homes would have an "acceptable impact upon the character of the conservation area".

The report adds: "The development is considered to have an acceptable impact on the visual and residential amenities of neighbouring occupiers, and to have an acceptable impact on local highway safety.

"Subject to a legal agreement, full planning approval is recommended."