The Independent London Newspaper
23rd April 2019

Church saved as ‘health spa’ plans defeated

    St Mark’s Church

    Developer vows to appeal decision

    CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after a planning inspector rejected controversial proposals to transform a historic Grade I-listed church into a luxury health spa.
    Paul Jackson released his judgment on Monday after a five-day planning inquiry hearing in City Hall following investigations by the West End Extra. The decision has paved the way for an exiled congregation to return to St Mark’s Church in North Audley Street, Mayfair.
    He said: “The proposed development would preserve the character and enhance the appearance of the ­Mayfair Conservation Area, but the harm to the special architectural character and historic interest of the building itself would be substantial.
    “The case made for continuing the church is compelling and involves significantly less intervention. Planning permission must be refused.”
    He added “the needy” would suffer if the building was no longer used for “baptisms, church weddings, funerals... solace and prayer.” 
    President of the Save St Mark’s Action Group, Lady Sainsbury, said: “I want to thank the Inspector for coming to the same conclusion as those of us who want to keep the place as a church to worship in. 
    “This is a vindication for those living in the area, who have worked so hard to keep it available for community use.”
    Multi millionaire developer George Hammer, who lives next door to the church, applied to open a “wellness” centre, providing specialist health treatments in the building.
    Westminster Council rejected the application last December with councillors warning the application was “sacrilegious”.
    But Mr Hammer, whose Jersey based company Mayfair would refurbish the building, bought the church lease from the Diocese of London in September appealed.
    His legal team told the planning inquiry his development was the only way of refurbishing the church and Mr ­Hammer said he would mount a legal challenge to the inspector’s decision.
    Lady Sainsbury said she wanted to “sit down” with Mr Hammer “to work out how we can proceed”.
    She hopes to persuade him to agree to sell the lease to a religious charity and allow the congregation of around 200 church goers, who were kicked out of the church in October 2008, to return.
    Anglican charity Holy Trinity Bromptom (HTB) has now put a firm offer on the table and said they were ready and willing to fund the refurbishment.
    But Mr Hammer said there was “no chance” of him surrendering the lease to them, adding: “We have taken the Opinion of our Counsel, Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC, and are submitting a legal challenge to this muddled decision.
    “There are a number of interesting uses to which the building can be put without needing planning permission and I am actively
    exploring the detail of these.”
    TOM FOOT

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