Church redevelopment ‘needs’ Leeds’s support, claim developers

Developers wanting to revamp one of east Leeds’s most recognisable buildings have warned that the scheme may not be able to go ahead without support from councillors.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:08 pm
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:12 pm

St Mary’s Church in Richmond Hill has been derelict for more than 30 years, but plans emerged last week for developers to convert the 19th century building into dozens of flats.

The latest plans for the site – known as a position statement – were discussed by Leeds City Council’s North and East Plans Panel this week.

Speaking on behalf of Brewster Bye Architects, Mark Henderson told the meeting: “With our experienced team, we plan to transform the site into a valuable community asset – it is an iconic building on the skyline.

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An artist's impression of the work.

“We have a realistic opportunity to deliver this scheme. Our hope is that the scheme will be a creative arts hub for the area.

“Without your support, the scheme has a very real chance of not happening, which could lead to further delay and putting the building into further risk for a longer period of time.”

As councillors then debated the merits, Coun Elizabeth Nash (Lab) said: “I am all in favour of alternative uses being found for listed buildings, otherwise they just deteriorate and disappear as this one almost has.”

She went on to ask for assurances that the building’s foundations would be secure enough to support new building works.

Mr Henderson responded: “We would have a full ground investigation report carried out. We will have to carry out thorough investigations for the ground that is there. We will employ structural engineers for the site.”

Commenting on the plans, Coun Trish Smith (Con) said: “It’s a beautiful building and it has been left to deteriorate for a number of years. There is a lot of antisocial behaviour that goes on around there – so it is a massive improvement and I think the people in the local area would welcome it.

“I am a big believer in the idea that if you look after the small things, other things will follow. If it was my ward, I would certainly welcome it.”

Plans include demolishing the nave and aisles of the church, and replacing them with 175 flats spread across two buildings. The scheme will include the restoration of the church chancel, transept and chapels, with an added extension, while the presbytery building will be demolished entirely and replaced with a five-storey block.

The church, for so many years a landmark in east Leeds, was built in the 1850s but has stood empty for more than 30 years, having closed in 1989.

A report into the state of the church buildings describes them as being in an “advanced state of dereliction”, with both the church and presbytery on the council’s register of buildings at risk.

Several attempts have been made to renovate the site over the years, with planning applications approved in 2008 as well as an application to extend the time allowed for development 2011 – but work never even began. Permission for redevelopment of the site ran out in 2014.

The final version of the plans are expected to go before Leeds city councillors in the coming months.