A group of pilgrims are appealing the Diocese of East Anglia Historic Churches Committee’s determination against the development plans for the Catholic Shrine at Walsingham.
The Trustees of the Catholic National Shrine withdrew plans to update the facilities at the Shrine after the diocesan committee expressed concerns about the impact of the new development. Historic England also had reservations about the planning application.
In a letter to Cedric Burton, secretary of the East Anglia Historic Churches Committee, the appellants argue that “procedural errors and irregularities surrounding this Determination are of sufficient number and importance as to render the Determination invalid”.
The procedural irregularities cited include the diocesan committee’s alleged failure to ensure public notice and consultation.
The August 19 letter claims the committee “denied the public in general the right to take part in the decision-making process” by failing to meet the planning codes of practice laid out by the government and the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, which both stipulate that application decisions should not be made until 21 days have elapsed since public notice and advertisement of the planning application.
“Public notice and consultation are not optional extras but essential and fundamental to the planning process,” the letter continued. “Failure to fulfil these obligations might be understandable in extraordinary circumstances, in which case one would at least expect the applicant to be notified that normal procedures were not being followed. There is no evidence that the applicant has been made aware of any HCC decision to attempt to exempt itself from these procedures.”
The letter goes on to argue that “even putting aside this essential defect in procedure, the substance of the Determination itself is also defective in terms of the merits of the decision.” The lay group argue that this is because the ambiguous wording of the diocesan committee’s decision, which spoke of “significant” rather than “substantial” harm, means that the Determination “fails to find whether harm would be substantial or less than substantial”, as is required by the National Planning Policy Framework.
The proposals included expanded facilities for pilgrims and would have seen the 1981 Chapel of Reconciliation replaced with a neo-Gothic church, whilst leaving the Grade I listed Slipper Chapel and the 19th century Grade II listed presbytery untouched.
Lead appellant Andrew Cusack said of the committee’s decision: “The HCC’s determination ignores the National Planning Policy Framework by failing to make a determination of harm. They merely mentioned the possibility of harm without citing a single example of what harm the proposal would cause.
“The Code of Practice also requires them to consider submissions made by the public during the consultation period, which they cannot have done since the consultation never took place.”
Speaking to the Catholic Herald yesterday, Cedric Burton said the diocesan committee had yet to see the appeal but that “at the moment it is a question of determining whether the so-called appellants are indeed entitled to appeal anything.”
The bishops’ conference’s Patrimony Committee permits that an appeal against a historic churches’ decision can be made by any interested party, including “any person who submitted written representations to the HCC during the consultation period”.
The group argue that they would have fallen “under the category of those who submitted written representations to the Historic Churches Committee during the consultation period” but “the HCC does not appear to have held any public consultation period.”
The list of appellants includes architectural historian Michael Hodges, London soup kitchen organiser Kate MacKenzie, and Andrew Cusack, Chairman of Catholics in the Conservative Party.
A spokesman for the Diocese of East Anglia said: “Should this appeal go ahead it is hard to see what benefit for pilgrims will be achieved. The Walsingham Trust have already withdrawn the original proposal and stated that they wish to develop a new one which will meet their future needs and those of the local community and satisfy the requirements of statutory bodies. The HCC is ready to assist in this process.”
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