Councillors to discuss plans to demolish former Westgate church to make way for offices and flats

New design (Kentish Projects)

A proposal to demolish a former church in Westgate to make way for a new build office space and flats will be discussed by members of Thanet council’s planning committee next week.

The application from developer Kentish Projects asks for permission to flatten St Peter’s Church and Presbytery and replace it with commercial offices for a new headquarters for Miles and Barr Estate Agents (ground floor) and an additional 14 one and two-bed apartments on the first, second and third floors, with associated parking, access and landscaping.

The application has been amended from a previous proposal – which included 21 flats -following concerns over the design of a four storey, flat roof block.

The amended design is for a three and four storey building with an office at ground floor and flats on the first, second and third floors. The proposed building comprises a four storey central block, two three storey wings set back from the central section and a single storey flat roof rear projection.

The building would have a pitched roof design with a central gable feature to the front elevation and pitched roof dormers to the front side and rear elevations.

St Peter’s Church and Presbytery in Westgate

The church, on Canterbury Road, was constructed in 1963, first opening in 1964. It has a nave and Lady Chapel with sacristy room sited on either side of the nave, and baptism and repository areas each side of the main entrance.

A proposal previously approved in June 2018 provided for office use on the ground floor of the existing church building, with a boardroom on mezzanine above, in the vaulted void.

But the current application is for a new build on the site. The application states: “Following further investigation of the costs of conversion and the limitations on the floorspace layout operationally for the end user Miles and Barr, the benefits of a new purpose a revised proposal for a purpose built office in terms of energy consumption and running costs and preferred layout for optimum working practices were identified.”

Permission would mean Miles and Barr could relocate from its current rented premises at Discovery Park in Sandwich and provide 65 jobs – 35 existing and 30 new.

But there have been objections, and a petition with 19 signatures, citing concerns at over-massing and the increase of traffic entering and exiting the site on to the A28 Canterbury Road, as well as fears that the build will impact on neighbouring grade II listed Summerlands Lodge.

An objection from CPRE Kent  to the initial version of the plan says the new build “would not respect or enhance the surrounding area,”  “would not protect existing trees” and “would not preserve or enhance the Westgate Conservation Area.”

Margate Civic Society has objected, saying: “ The anticipated daily vehicular movements into and out of the site at such an incredibly vulnerable point on the A28 and directly adjacent to an extremely busy crossroads are quite unthinkable.

“Indeed, the site being so closely situated to the crossroads and on a dual carriageway, how is it to be explained that access into the site from Birchington and exit from the site towards Margate can be achieved in any remotely safe manner?”

Westgate Town Council has also objected.

In a report to councillors the planning officer says: “Whilst a number of objections have been received regarding highway safety, the proposal is achieving a safe access with adequate visibility splays, and adequate off-street parking provision.”

The initial plan proposed the removal of nine trees from the site, none of which are currently subject to a tree preservation order (TPO). The amended plan retains one additional tree and proposes the planting of ten new trees on the site.

The recommendation to councillors is to defer and delegate to planning officers for approval subject to conditions. The planning meeting takes place on August 5.

Developer contributions

£4660 towards the Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) plan to offset the potential impact on protected birds at European designated sites from increased visitors from the district to these areas

£18,116 is proposed towards a new secondary school,

£5,288.92 towards new secondary school land,

£229.88 towards additional equipment for Margate Adult Education Centre,

£917 towards additional equipment for Margate Youth Centre,

£776.30 towards additional library bookstock,

£2056.32 towards specialist care accommodation

£1298.08 towards waste services.

The last days of St Peter’s Church and Presbytery

The final Sunday Mass at the building before closure was in July 2014 and since then the building has remained  empty.

The decision to close the church was made because the cost of repairing and maintaining it was not considered economically viable.

The church had capacity for up to 400 parishioners but in the preceding years before closure, numbers had dropped to around 60-65 per week.

The Benedictines owned the site and when they moved from St. Augustine’s Abbey, Ramsgate to Chilworth, Guildford in Surrey, the Diocese of Southwark ran the church.

Both the Diocese and the Benedictines as freeholders, looked internally at a range of possible uses before disposal could be authorised. The Benedictines have a significant estate and the decision to dispose of the church and its grounds was not taken without very careful
consideration of the long-term interests of the church.

The Benedictines made the final decision to dispose of the church and its grounds.