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Heritage campaigners object to demolition of recently listed Oxford church

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Campaigners are challenging plans to demolish an Oxford church designed by Colin Shewring and recently given Grade II-listed status

The Twentieth Century Society told Oxford City Council it objected ‘in the strongest possible terms’ to plans by Yeates Design to replace the Church of the Holy Family on the Blackbird Lees estate.

Clerkenwell-based practice Yeates submitted plans to rebuild the 1960s church a few days before Christmas 2018. At almost exactly the same time, the building was closed to the public due to the dangerous condition of its roof.

A bid to secure heritage protection for the existing church was successful last August, when the government granted it Grade II listing.

This listing decision is currently subject to appeal, but Yeates, on behalf of the trustees of the church, has amended its initial planning application and in March requested listing building consent to press ahead with the rebuild project.

Now The Twentieth Century Society has objected to the revised planning application, saying the existing building is ‘irreplaceable’.

‘There is a clear opportunity here for imaginative refurbishment, not just a short-sighted and overpowering redevelopment,’ the campaign body told the council.

Historic England’s website says the church was listed for reasons including its ‘carefully considered interior, with high-quality, architect-designed fixtures and fittings’.

It adds that the building is ‘a largely intact example of an innovative 1960s church with an unusual heart-shaped plan’. It is said to be an illustrative of the boom in post-war churches designed to the principles of the Liturgical Movement.

However, Yeates says in planning documents for its proposed scheme that records show the roof leaked from ‘very early on in its existence’. A 1983 recovering of the roof failed, according to the documents and, by 2018, ‘any service held on a rainy day would be seriously disrupted’.

A report by structural engineers that summer found that the upper layers of the roof’s timber structure were rotten and the building was closed on safety grounds that Christmas.

Reports carried out for the trustees show the roof structure would cost £2.4 million to repair and only slightly less to replace.

The church says on its website: ‘Although the building has been listed at Grade II, the community would be best served with a fit-for-purpose, environmentally and user-friendly building taking us into the next decade.’

Yeates has proposed a two-storey complex organised around a courtyard. The practice said the scheme would create a ‘more flexible worship space’ that can be subdivided according to size of event.

It added in planning documents: ‘A modern interpretation of the high-level clerestory window brings light deep into the church space to create a bright and airy feeling’.

No date has been set for councillors to decide on the planning application. An appeal against the listing of the church is ongoing.

Shewring (1924-1995) worked on a number of churches, including St Peter’s at Ravenshead in Nottingham and St Luke’s in Leicester.

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