Win for campaigners as 'precious' Chadwell Heath village hall is saved from demolition
PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 November 2019
Plans to demolish a "precious" community hall in Chadwell Heath have been refused following fierce opposition from residents.
Save Somerville Hall campaigners made impassioned speeches about why the hall should be saved for community use at Redbridge Council's planning committee on Wednesday, November 20.
Saint Chads Church, in Eric Road, which owns Somerville Hall, in Somerville Road, had proposed to knock it down and sell the land to a developer to build five "luxury" houses in its place.
Rev Martin Court - who is the vicar at the church - said money from selling the land would go towards expanding its current facilities.
In the last 10 years, the number of permanent users at Somerville Hall had dropped to three - a karate group, Girl Guiding group and a pre-school - and the need for the use for the hall has been in further decline in the last few years, the planning officer said.
But Lisa Eagland, speaking on behalf of campaigners fighting to save the hall, which closed its doors in 2018, said the "amazing facility" had "thrived as a community venue for 30 years".
"We are all aware of the impact of loneliness and isolation on mental health," she said.
"The power of local communities, within easy walking access of facilities, is key to help with this, and working together we have the opportunity to do this with active promotion of the hall's facilities, clubs and events.
"As a group, we could help the church re-open the hall and re-establish it as the thriving community asset that it once was.
"Please help us make this happen. We have a real chance of making a valuable change in our local community."
Campaigner Melvin Drayton, who has lived opposite the hall for nearly 25 years, said: "Should this fantastic community asset be reopened, the hall will be in daily use in term time and easily made use of at other times with a bit of promotion and a lick of paint. We are happy to assist in any way with this.
"Let's treasure the heritage of the hall and make new history for our local community.
"The need for this community asset is greater than ever. This hall would enhance community cohesion further."
In response to campaigners, Rev Court said they want to improve the main church site and reach more of the community with new facilities.
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He said: "Our ethos is community spirit and reaching out to the community regardless of race or religion.
"We already reach out in a myriad of ways to many of the people who live within the immediate vicinity of Somerville Hall. It is our intention to reach out more to those people.
"Somerville Hall was great, but is no longer great.
"What we can do is improve our main site, which is what we're seeking to do.
"The only reason we are seeking to develop Somerville Hall is so we can pile the money back in and give back to the community.
"We have a campaign group here tonight, but no community group has come to me in the last 10 years and said we desperately need something."
Chadwell Heath ward councillors spoke in support of the campaigners and the need to preserve the hall for future generations.
"We need to retain the hall so young people have somewhere to go," Cllr Hannah Chaudhry said.
"Somerville Hall is a precious local asset and it must be preserved for future generations to enjoy."
Cllr Anne Sachs added: "To demolish a recently listed asset of community value is shocking. Don't allow this injustice.
"We want it in the heart of the community, not a mile away.
"The reason the hall is not being used is because the applicant closed it."
Planning permission was refused with six voting against the plans, two in favour and one abstention.
Responding to the decision, Ms Eagland said: "We are relieved beyond measure. But we realise Rev Court has the right to an appeal so we are just waiting to fight the next stage if he decides to continue.
"We will be ready and waiting to continue the fight and restore Somerville Hall back to our community."