We heard today that the planning appeal, which was heard on 3rd and 4th July this year, for planning applications 17/03877 and 17/00062 were both dismissed (that is, refused). Many people have been waiting to hear the outcome of these appeals, so we wanted to let people know as soon as possible.
Needless to say, it's a huge disappointment.
There are several things to say.
The Diocese of Rochester is responsible for providing a vicarage for the vicar of Kemsing and Woodlands to live in. In 1983, they put the former vicarage (on the corner of High Street and Church Lane) on their replacement list. A different house was needed, as older houses require regular sums of money spending to maintain them, and the Church of England has limited cash, and would prefer to spend it on people rather than buildings. Initially, a number of existing houses for sale were looked at, to assess their potential suitability. Vicarages are both public buildings and private dwellings, so have particular requirements. None were found that were suitable, or that could be adapted to become so (either because of the cost of purchase and adaptation, or because of physical limitations). So a plan was formed to purpose-build a new vicarage.
Meanwhile, the former Church Hall (built in 1961 with an expected life of 25 years) was needing replacing. It was at the end of its life, and was also too small for our steadily growing church. In 2002, an architect was commissioned to look into this, and in 2006 the architect working on the new vicarage was asked to propose a scheme for a new hall that would look just right alongside his proposed vicarage. The result was a building designed for the specific conservation area setting, and (because of careful work in 2010 by a group representing all the hall's users) perfectly fit for purpose as well.
A planning application for the two buildings was refused in 2013, so the drawings were adapted to take account of the feedback from the planning officer's report. Meanwhile, the old hall burnt down in a suspected arson attack in April 2014. Things were now urgent.
Fresh plans were then submitted in 2016, this time one application for each building, addressing the earlier reasons for refusal. The hall was approved, but the vicarage was refused.
A problem became apparent with the consent we had just obtained for the hall: It included permanent vehicular access through the car park. The car park is now owned by Kemsing Parish Council, who would gladly let us use it for such access, were it not for a restriction placed upon them by the previous owner when the car park was sold to them. Their hands are tied, so we cannot use that access.
A fresh application was submitted for each building, this time with the only other vehicle route we could take - through a disused section of the churchyard. Both those plans were refused. After one final amended plan for the hall was again refused (to account for some genuine shortcomings in the previous design), both plans were appealed.
These were the two appeals that have now been refused.
So where do we go from here? Before we get to that, there are three things to say to different groups of people.
Thank you to everyone who supported us through the planning process, by writing in to support the plans, and in other ways.
Thank you to everyone who supported us at the appeal, by writing in, and by attending part or even all of the hearing.
Your help made a real difference. Without it, planning refusal would have been certain. As it was, we came away from the hearing feeling this really could go either way.
Thank you, too, to everyone who has worked so hard to continue to serve the whole community whilst we don't have a permanent base to operate from. Everything has been harder work than it needs to be, and your hard efforts are greatly appreciated by all who benefit from them.
Thank you to Kemsing Primary School, St Edith Hall, Kemsing Library, the St Edith Club, and (formerly) Abbeyfield The Dynes for letting us use your premises so we can continue to serve people.
Some of you won't be disappointed by this news, but did not want to see those planning applications succeed.
A few people in that category (both within and outside of) the church family acted on their objection by choosing to speak and write against our proposals in public. The democratic process absolutely says that anyone should be free to do that, and that is a right we must retain. Most who were opposed discussed their concerns in private, but also recognised that decisions had been taken by the church and things were at an advanced state.
Our plans are to facilitate service to the whole village community, and indeed beyond. I don't believe that individual objections materially affected the outcome of this appeal. We're not in the least resentful. Nevertheless, we're sorry that not everyone felt able to see the benefit to the collective good of the whole community, and either join us in working to see these plans materialise or to honour the earlier decisions to proceed in this particular way.
Kemsing is a strong community, and we look out for one another and work together. We need to guard against things that will pull our community in different directions, and together seek the ways forward for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
The last thing to say is a reminder to us all to trust God through the disappointment. James 1:17 tells us that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Jesus tells us that God is like a Father who gives good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11).
God is the giver of all good gifts, and he only gives good things to his children. The disappointment at being unable to proceed with the appealed plans is real and deep for most of us. But God calls us to trust that he has our best interests at heart, that he has not lost control, and therefore that he knows exactly what he's doing as he closes this particular door.
We were right to proceed with the appeal. It seemed to us the best and fastest way forwards to replace the hall (on which more in a moment). But God is free to respond to our trusting hard work with the news that he has something better for us.
As James 4:13-15 says:
"Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’"
Or Proverbs 16:9:
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
God calls us to plan, but to do so humbly remembering that the future is in his hands not ours.
So where do we go from here?
Our focus has always been on the hall. We've been working with the Diocese on this joint appeal because not only does it meet the long-term need for a sustainable vicarage here, but it would be the fastest way to get the hall built. While the appeal has been progressing, work has been going on behind the scenes on the hall, so that we are now no further behind than we would be had the appeal never taken place. The technical drawings and structural engineering calculations are all complete. Just last week, a small group met with our architect to take the next steps forwards in building the hall, in readiness for either appeal outcome.
We still have the consent from 2016 for a hall. (We need to amend the consent to remove the permanent vehicular access for the reasons explained above.) We intend to build the hall for which we have consent.
Because the appeal failed, two things are not ideal. The first is that the building will not be as accessible to those with limited mobility as we would like. Second, the funds we still need to raise for the hall have increased. The second of those needs explaining.
The entire field is owned by the church here in Kemsing (technically, the PCC). Had the appeal succeeded, we would have sold part of that land to the Diocese of Rochester for their vicarage. That would have raised anything up to £250,000, which would help significantly with funding the hall. Because the appeal was dismissed, we now do not have that extra funding.
Nevertheless, we believe the hall is still within reach. We have well over half the funds we need, and several applications are pending with grant-making bodies. In the next few months, tender documents will be drawn up to allow builders to bid for the construction. The tenders will allow us to build in phases if necessary, so that construction can begin while fund-raising continues. Once we've accepted one of the tenders, we'll have an exact figure for the funds required, which will then enable us to be much more clear as to the remaining funds to be raised. We'll then invite donations and apply for further grants, and hopefully see the gap close rapidly once construction work begins on site.
We may need your help to complete the hall, and you can read more about the ways you can do that on our donations page.
But please be assured: We had already planned our next steps should the appeal decision go this way, and we will continue to execute that plan.
If you'd like more information about any of this, please contact the vicar.
If you'd like to read about the different ways you could help with funding the hall, please visit our donations page. This will give you the opportunity to give right away, or to read of other ways you could raise funds to help us.