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Luxury housing grinds to a halt as Georgian church crumbles

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The sudden collapse of a west London Georgian church has halted a £4 million Manhattan Loft Corporation luxury housing scheme.

The Stephen Ibbotson Architects' project was for the creation of new facilities for the Westbourne Green Baptist church. It also includes retail space and 14 luxury flats, including a £1.3 million threebedroom penthouse. But work was brought to a standstill when a 10m high and 22m long section of the church's north wall began to 'dramatically lean' during underpinning work. It later crashed to the ground, raining masonry onto Ledbury Road and damaging neighbouring homes.

A spokesperson for Manhattan Loft Corporation told the AJ: 'One of the builders noticed the wall was moving.While the architect and engineer were examining the structure the wall began to crumble.'

Architect Stephen Ibbotson added: 'It was quite dramatic really. It's a problem with this type of old building and especially when planners force us to retain facades that are not of terribly good quality.'

He added that originally only a small section had started to collapse, but as it fell it dragged the support scaffolding with it which pulled down the rest of the wall. 'It's a bit ironic - the thing that was holding it up, actually dragged it down.'

The project is the first of three similar jobs the practice has won, but Ibbotson said he was not put off: 'I suppose it's what happens when you're messing around with old buildings.'

Secretary of the Georgian Group Robert Bargery agreed: 'This is a perennial problem. To save such structures it is sometimes necessary to develop an alternative use - which means quite major interventions.' And director of the Historic Chapels Trust Jenny Freeman added: 'Many of these buildings have suffered from a lack of professional care over the last century. There is an urgent need for an audit of these structures so that such collapses can be avoided in the future.'

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