A Christian congregation have been booted out of a former Dartford nightclub where they hold their services amid an unholy planning battle.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God bought the disused club in 2017, and has been meeting there ever since.
But the site sits at the heart of a proposed 548 home housing development to be built by developer Bellway plc.
The church has applied to Dartford Council for retrospective planning permission to use former Talk of the Town nightspot as a place of worship.
As well as hosting worship, the church also collaborates with local charity groups to offer community services including a winter homeless shelter, a food bank, pre and post-natal classes and computer courses for the unemployed.
But the council has repeatedly refused the church’s change of use application because they say it is “incompatible” with the street’s regeneration aims.
The 100-strong congregation successfully appealed the council’s decision to the Planning Inspectorate in July, allowing the site to be used as a place of worship.
But the Planning Inspector gave the church in Dartford town centre a “challenging” 28-day deadline to submit a noise assessment – which they missed.
A council planning committee again refused the church’s application last week, but passed Bellway’s application for housing on adjacent land to the next stage – despite the Environment Agency’s (EA) objections remaining ‘unresolved.’ Paul Nicholls, the planning expert representing the church, said: “On Thursday, the council rejected the church’s application again because they say it doesn’t fit with the regeneration plans for the area despite a Planning Inspector concluding otherwise.
“Essentially, officers want to refuse something that is of no harm according to a Planning Inspector and yet want to approve a neighbouring housing development that the EA says is likely to result in significant risk to property and life.”
Mr Nicholls, who has been in the planning sector for 18 years, said: “It’s very unusual for any officer to be recommending the approval of a housing development when there are objections from the EA on flood risk grounds which have not been addressed.
“The EA has, to date, not committed to saying that their objections could be overcome.”
The planner also thinks the committee report – designed to inform council members prior to taking their decision on the housing development – was “misleading.”
Mr Nicholls, an Associate Director at Graham Simpkin Planning, said: “There’s no mention of the EA’s three objections to the housing development on flood risk in the report plus the fact that they recommended refusal of the application.
“This is why we take the view that council members are being misled.”
He raised his concerns with the committee chair, Councillor Derek Hunnisett, during the meeting.
Mr Nicholls added: “After my speech, the chair, speaking on behalf of the entire committee, said that, whilst respecting my view, they were confident there was no intention to mislead members.”
Coun Hunnisett failed to explain why the EA repeated objections were omitted from the report, as did the author of the report when Paul quizzed her.
Bellway, which made £3 billion in revenue last year, has repeatedly approached the church offering to buy the former nightclub.
Mr Nicholls believes the FTSE 250 developer wants to demolish the church and build more houses on the plot.
The company offered to buy the site for £2.7 million on October 29, little more than a week before the planning committee – but the congregation definitely refused.
Mr Nicholls added: “They have every right not to sell.
“They are a private landowner.”
A spokesperson for the church said: “The fact is we own the property.
“In July 2019 the Secretary of State granted our appeal. We won’t hesitate to appeal again.”
Mr Nicholls suspects the council’s next move will be to enforce a compulsory purchase order on the church.
He added: “The council will step in if the church doesn’t budge. I think that’s what will happen now.
“By refusing the change of use application they are keeping the value of the land lower.”
The church is applying to use the former nightclub as a place of worship until 2023, when it wants to build a multi-purpose centre to better serve the community.