Bath Voice News: reactions continue over plans to demolish The Church of the Good Shepherd and replace it with more houses

By Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis: The Church of the Good Shepherd in the Northend area of Batheaston is a rare example of 1960s brutalism in the Bath area. But the church closed down during the Covid-19 pandemic and, with declining numbers attending mass, was judged to not be viable to reopen.

The church was the work of Bath architect Martin Fisher, who was also behind the design of St Peter and Paul’s in Combe Down. It is controversial in the village, with some calling it an “important historical statement” and others seeing it as an “eyesore.”

Rather than a spire, the church’s square roof slopes up to the south east corner with windows which, from the outside, could easily be mistaken for concrete. But inside, there is a revelation of colour as light from across the valley streams in through the windows behind the altar.

Now the Diocese of Clifton hopes to redevelop the site as housing, with worshippers to attend St Mary’s in nearby Bath instead or watch live-streamed mass services. But the plans have been slammed by locals who love and loathe the church alike. 79 people have lodged objections on the council’s planning portal, with just two comments lodged in support, and two uncategorised.

Jonathan Stockton wrote: “This building is of great note. Its brutal architecture from the mid 1960’s may not be to everyone’s taste but it is an important historical statement which has been an important part of the character of Batheaston for over 50 years.

“It would be completely wrong to demolish this building and replace it with the poorly designed and over-bearing block of terrace houses proposed which would dominate and over-shadow beautiful listed cottages and houses around it.

“The fact that the Church of the Good Shepherd has been used for film and television location work should also underline its beauty, looks and uniqueness.”

He added: “Why can the church of the Good Shepherd not be carefully converted into one or two dwellings and retain its historic looks?”

Also lodging an objection, Russell Hudson said: “I consider the existing building to be an extremely good example of 1960’s architecture. From Penthouse Hill the building is very low impact visually, being single story, but manages to fit an impressive sized building on a small and difficult site.

“I understand that the building was turned down for listing by Historic England, which is a great shame. Good buildings from this era are very unusual in the Bath area, and should be preserved where possible. Although the Church does not fit in with the style of the buildings around it, it is clearly designed sympathetically to its surroundings, when built in 1967.”

Alex Clarke added: “Although not in keeping with the surrounding buildings, the removal of such a unique structure would be a loss to the architectural heritage of the village. It is easy to erase structures built in the mid-century however this removes important historical development of the village.”

But even those who do not like the brutalist church have objected to the plans to build four houses in its place. David Struart said: “The church is the village joke. Everyone sees it as a disproportionate and ugly mistake.”

But he warned that the new building was “inappropriate” and something close to the character of the rest of the village should be built. He said: “The villagers have put up with this eyesore at the entrance of Northend for far too long and trust the Clifton Diocese will nominate appropriately experienced architects. Here is the chance to carefully right a wrong which was committed in the sixties and create good ordinary houses”

Meanwhile, Amanda McGonigle wrote: “I am speaking as one who would be delighted to see the removal of the current church building — which I find architecturally lacking bar the wonderful stained glass window inside — and as someone who would be glad to see new houses in its place.

“However I am dismayed by the current planning application and wish to register my objection to it. I find that the proposed plans are as if an alien entity has been dropped into Northend.”

Clodagh Large added: “The developers insist that it will not be taller than the church. However, the church itself was an eyesore and already cut off views that had been on our property for years.”

Bath Preservation Society, which normally calls for historic buildings to be protected, was one of only two commenters in support of the plans, stating that the church was “incongruous.” But it warned against making the new homes too “overbearing.”

Meanwhile Alex Heshmaty, who also commented in support, said: “Ever since I moved to Batheaston over three years ago, this has basically been an abandoned building. Considering we currently have a major housing crisis in the UK, I absolutely support the idea of converting all abandoned buildings to residential dwellings.

“If it could be converted into a dozen flats rather than just four houses, that would be even better!”

Local councillor Sarah Warren has called for the plans to go before Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee.

You can view the application here:

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