Hotly-debated church window relocation plans given green light

Knutsford Guardian: Opinion was divided over whether or not to relocate windows in St Johns Church Opinion was divided over whether or not to relocate windows in St Johns Church

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to relocate stained glass windows in an historical Knutsford church has been approved by Cheshire East Council.

Councillors granted the Parochial Church Council permission to relocate windows dating from the Victorian-era to the upper level of St John’s Church at a committee meeting on January 22.

The decision was reached despite a recommendation from the conservation officer that the application be refused on grounds that it would ‘ruin the integrity of the building’ and a number of objections from public speakers.

Knutsford Town councillors Vivien Davies and Stuart Gardiner, as well as Paul Webster from Knutsford Conservation and Heritage Group, spoke in objection to proposals at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Clr Gardiner, in his capacity as ward councillor, brought forward the concerns of residents. Speaking at the meeting, he said: “The relocation of these windows is considered by some to be a desecration of one of the most important historic buildings within the town and should be rejected out of hand.”

Clr Gardiner addressed the applicants’ justification for the relocation – to allow more natural light into the building.

He said that a number of factors restrict natural light – the metal grilles, lack of window-cleaning and large trees in the front graveyard – and that the desired affect may be achievable through more cost-effective, less damaging means.

Clr Vivien Davies echoed Clr Gardiner’s concerns and agreed that the solution to the light problem could be reached in a less ‘retrograde’ manner.

She added: “All listed buildings are important and retaining their integrity is vital if they are to be fully appreciated by the next generation.”

John Lee, Warden of St John’s Church, spoke in support of the application and pointed out that the church and its members have raised over £540,000 towards the building costs.

“The wish of the people is to replace the windows,” he added. “It is a project with huge community support, with real community money.”

When it came time for the councillors to consider the application, a number of councillors spoke in favour of the application, making clear that they disagreed with the conservation officer’s recommendation.

Cheshire East Councillor David Neilson said: “Stain glass windows all look the same from the outside. Moving one stain glass window from here to there makes no difference at all. I cannot for the life of me understand why the officer has come up with this decision.”

Councillor Hilda Gaddum also spoke in support of the applicant stating that a church that can sustain a congregation of 300 should be supported by the council.

“When the church is prepared to work so hard to get to where it wants to be I think we should support it,” she added. “If we froze it back in the Victorian-era, we would have no electricity and still have candles.”

A proposal was agreed in that the planning permission would be approved, subject to conditions, with which six councillors voted in favour, two councillors voted against and two abstained.

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Reactions to the planning committee’s decision to grant planning permission for the relocation of the stained glass windows:

  • KCHG’s Chairman Ken Rhodes said: “We recognise that decisions on whether to grant planning permission take account of several factors, of which heritage is only one – albeit important in Knutsford.

“We hope that St John’s Church will take this opportunity to reflect fully on its responsibility for its heritage assets, for the benefit of the wider community.”

  • St John’s Church Vicar Rev Nigel Atkinson said: “‘I’d like to thank the Councillors for their backing. They seemed to realise that we are a community who have put our money where our faith is, who care about the preservation of our town’s heritage, but who can’t stand still in a changing world.

“And that same balance of faithful tradition and modern relevance is at the
heart of reaching people with the gospel, of course.’

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