We received this from the acting head of planning at Dartmoor National Park Authority just a few days ago, in response to a request from us to update the advice which had previously been given about the possible conversion of part of the church for residential use:
“The response given last year to initial enquiries was a reflection of the situation at that time. We were faced with a redundant chapel that has significant historic interest and the absence of any likely community use at that time. The, in principle, acceptance of a range of alternative uses, including a small element of residential use was a reaction to the fact that the building, as a whole needs significant investment and, without the prospect of grant aid, one realistic option may have been to create some revenue by allowing a small number of residential units in the front section of the building. That was couched with the fact that, as presented at the time, two of the three flats would have needed to have been affordable units to meet our policy requirements. At best I would suggest that such a scheme would have produced marginal returns and, in hindsight, perhaps less than would be required to sustain the more important elements of the building – the ultimate aim of any conversion project.
I am pleased to see that the Ashburton Arts initiative has developed its concept further. This is, in principle, a most suitable use of the building as a whole and certainly follows our first policy principle of finding an alternative community/business use for the building before we consider perhaps more invasive alterations including potentially residential use. In reality, I agree that it would be difficult to see community use working directly alongside residential use. With the knowledge that we seem to have a viable community/business use of the building in place I would now be in a position to counter any, perhaps less sympathetic, schemes of conversion.
As you will appreciate I cannot dismiss any particular proposals at this stage and would of course look at each on their particular merits. That said, I am encouraged by the principle of the community use that Ashburton Arts are looking to provide and agree that this opportunity should be explored to a conclusion before we fall back on any other alternatives. I would welcome further dialogue with the group once they feel able to progress.”
This backs up an earlier response from the DNPA’s Building Conservation Officer which we received last year:
“It is a long established conservation principle that the best use for a redundant historic building is almost always the one closest to its original purpose. In this case, the original chapel, which forms the south and most historically significant part of the building, would be best suited to communal gatherings, whereas the later north part had a more administrative function, which would lend itself to more flexible uses. Your proposals would broadly retain these functions and in conservation terms would therefore seem to be appropriate. Inevitably, any change of use scheme would cause a degree of harm but where this is less than substantial (which in this case it would be) this can be outweighed by public benefit. The use you have identified would, in my view, have considerable public benefit and be an appropriate way of securing the long term beneficial use of the whole of this important historic building, which is ultimately what I would wish to help facilitate.
Overall, without going into the finer details of your proposals and subject to the above constraints, I consider that the options outlined in the feasibility study could form the basis of a successful scheme.”