Devon councillors back bell tower and church extension application for thriving Tiverton parish

A council in Devon has backed plans to add a bell tower to a village’s church in Devon – despite concerns it will disturb the neighbours.

The bells at St James Catholic Church in Tiverton would ring six times a week for 15 minutes, a Mid Devon District Council planning meeting was told.

One councillor dubbed the idea of a bell tower a “thing of beauty”.

But chairman, Liberal Democrat Councillor Les Cruwys said “It’s one thing moving into a beautiful little village and buying a lovely cottage next to a church… But this is the opposite; the church bells are moving in next to them.”

Councillor Rachel Gilmour, Liberal Democat councillor for Clare and Shuttern, supported the plans by Plymouth’s Roman Catholic Diocese which involve doubling the size of the thriving church and joining it to the presbytery, which will increase in height.

“Henry VIII destroyed the most beautiful Catholic churches in this country,” she said.

“If the Catholic church wants to extend this one in Tiverton and stick a belfry on top, then that’s fine with me.”

She described the idea of bell tower as a “thing of beauty”.

Mr Cruwys disagreed, adding: “Bells are not there to call people to the service any more.

“People come from further afield and will not hear the bells anyway.

“I cannot agree with the officer’s recommendation to support this, unless it’s minus the bells.”

Planners were told concerns had been raised by nearby residents about the potential noise impact particularly as the bell would be level with some of the houses.

However, officers said it would be equivalent to “light traffic noise”.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat Councillor Frank Letch described bell-ringing as “wonderful” and Conservative Councillor Polly Copthorne said the application was “very refreshing”.

The planning statement said that: “Following a detailed building inspection report dated January 2020 and a later secondary report and review dated March 2022, a feasibility study was undertaken with an aim of providing enhanced worship and parish space at St James Roman Catholic Church.

“This planning application is for the extension and improvement works to the existing Church and presbytery. Being mindful of the environmental impact of total demolition of the adequate existing structure, adaptation of the existing building shall make use of the existing portal frame structure to improve the worship and ancillary space with a greater sense of permanence.”

It continues: “The current layout of the Church provides a simple congregational area with no adequate provision for children. There is no adequate or respectful sanctuary. The layout of the altar, reserved sacrament, and perpetual light along with the font and stations of the cross are all weak. There is no provision for a private prayer, baptistery, confessional or an appropriate sacristy and vestry area.

“The Church site is not easily identified from the highway. Whilst the car park is signed, there are few other clues to help identify the building as a Church. Access to the carpark is to the far west of the site.”

It says that following a review, the proposal focuses on the re-use and adaption of the exciting building, thus reducing the carbon footprint when compared to total demolition and rebuild.

The planning statement continues: “Currently, the internal layout does not work despite various attempts to improve its arrangement and orientation over the years. It is proposed to remove the long outer walls in their entirety along with the windows whilst retaining the existing concrete portal frames. The proposals involve extending to both the north and south whilst re-ordering the interior and refurbishing to provide: Vestry, sacristy, meeting space, side chapel, the addition of a dedicated Church/community Hall, improved disabled and general lavatory facilities, relocating the parish office from the presbytery partly to ensure ease of public access and safeguarding, increasing the bed space in the presbytery to accommodate two full time Priests plus potential trainee/visitors, link the memorial garden and ultimately the presbytery, increasing energy efficiency, insulation, and low energy heating.

The statement adds: “Following the closure of St Johns Church, St James is now the thriving Parish Church centre. The proposals are needed for an active and growing Catholic community. The building is to be available for community non-church use as at present.

“The Church footprint as existing is 400m2. The proposal will add an additional 504m2 which includes the link to the refurbished presbytery. The presbytery ground floor footprint remains unaltered, whilst an extension over the existing study and garage shall provide an additional 51m2.

“The ridge height of both the main Church body and presbytery shall remain unaltered, whilst the extensions to the north and south, and link building shall have lower roof levels.

“The addition of a bellcote and spire shall help identify the building as a Church. Something which is desperately needed. To avoid a canyon effect emphasising the narrowness on Old Road, the southern wall has been staggered and planting of appropriate shrubs extended an additional 30m along this boundary.”

Councillors supported the application with a number of conditions that limit lighting on site and stipulate bells should only be rung when services are taking place.

Story by William Kelly, The Catholic Network