Unholy row over proposed 'champing' pod plan for ancient church

By Saul Cooke-Black   |   BBC local democracy reporter   |
Thursday 11th March 2021 10:23 am
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A WORSHIPPER has blasted plans for a holiday ‘champing’ pod inside a recently restored 600-year-old village church as an “abomination”.

People will get the chance to sleep overnight in St Cadoc’s Church in Penrhos near Raglan after Monmouthshire Council planners approved a change of use at the 15th century Grade II-listed building, although services will still take place there.

The new form of glamping inside a place of worship, known as ‘champing’, has been backed as a way of breathing new life into old rural churches.

But congregation member Judy Beba-Brown is furious with church authorities for proposing the pod, telling planners it would be a desecration allowing people to “sleep” and “cavort” in “such a pure and peaceful place”.

She said: “I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms against this planning application.

“Surely its listed status should protect this beautiful and peaceful church and churchyard from such an abomination?

“The church has only just been restored after long and careful work to its exquisite purity and beauty.

“With a rare example of a most lovely barrel roof with pure lines and utter simplicity, it is a most beautiful building and not a home for a pod of any sort. It is, more importantly, an ancient place of Christian worship. I am a regular church-goer and have appreciated worshipping in such a pure and peaceful place over the years.

“To have this lovely church desecrated by this appalling ‘pod’ would break my heart.

“The proposed change of use is utterly dreadful, vulgar, hideous.

“It is a CHURCH, built so long ago by people who loved it and never dreamt it possible it be desecrated by the proposed ‘pod’ allowing people to sleep in it, cavort in it, ruin its essential beauty and peace.”

The church was restored between 2016 and 2018 after a £121,000 Heritage Lottery grant helped fund much-needed repairs to the death watch beetle-infested roof.

Wider use of the church was required as part of the grant, leading the Church in Wales and parochial church council to come up with the plan to install a free-standing timber-framed accommodation pod for up to two adults or a small family, which has now been approved, complete with sleeping/community area, kitchen, WC and shower, which will be available for community use as well.

But Judy Beba-Brown blasted: “No visitor would be willing to share their kitchen and loo with the congregation!”

She claimed morning service would have to take place amid “the sounds of showering (and worse)” and “the smell of frying bacon”, while there could be more noise and possible damage in the churchyard, including “dogs defecating round the graves” and harm to the ancient yew tree in the churchyard from children playing. The ‘pod’ and its proposed use is completely out of keeping with the area, and would desecrate our beloved church.”

Others with family members buried in the graveyard also raised concerns about the provision of a parking and turning place in the church grounds as part of the plan, while some neighbours complained about a loss of privacy.

Monmouthshire Council’s heritage officer objected it would “harm the special character of the building”, but confirmed Church in Wales has an ecclesiastical planning exemption on any works inside their own property.

But the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments backed it.

It said: “This is a bold but welcome scheme. Holiday pods or “champing” is now being run in some 20 of the 345 redundant churches in the UK. Such diversification of use and income must, if well-managed, help to guarantee the long-term viability of buildings like St Cadoc.”

The application for a change of use from the Church in Wales said: “The pod will provide essential kitchen and WC facilities to the church, allowing it to be utilised by both the existing congregation and local community for events, services and community groups.

“In addition, the provision of a unique self-contained holiday let accommodation serving visitors to the wider Monmouthshire area will allow the church to raise much needed income to ensure the continued use and viability of the church into the future.

“Extensive consultation and engagement has been undertaken with the local community with a very positive outcome.

“The local community are keen to have a local facility for use by community groups and events. The Penrhos Village Association are also very enthusiastic and supportive about the prospect of the accommodation pod.”

A report on behalf of the plan added: “The church is part of the Diocese of Monmouth and remains in use as a place of worship. The proposed works will not alter this and it is intended that the church remains as a place of worship in the future.

“In recent years the church has undergone substantial restoration works via Heritage Lottery Funding. A condition of the funding was that wider community use of the property be achieved, however this has been difficult to implement due to the lack of basic facilities to serve users.

“The Church in Wales and the Parochial Church Council wish to undertake non-structural or fabric alterations to the internal area of St Cadoc’s Church by constructing a new accommodation pod (which) will also be utilised for short term holiday-lets.”

It added: “Whilst the religious congregation may be dwindling, the building still holds an important place in the village and the community strongly support the proposal to allow the church to be used for a wider variety of groups and events, giving them a space to come together and connect with their wider neighbours.”

A council planning officer recommended approval of the change of use, noting that the parking area would not interfere with the graveyard, and the scheme was approved.

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