Council refuses to support holiday lets plan for Hawes chapel

Hawes Methodist Chapel.

By Betsy Everett

A battle for the future of the empty Methodist chapel in Hawes is underway as the parish council refused to support a proposal to turn the building into holiday lets.

Residents, councillors, and business owners made impassioned pleas for affordable homes on the one hand, and commercial holiday lets that would bring visitors to the market town on the other.

Sally and Matthew Faulkes, who bought the chapel in 2017, have applied to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for planning permission to convert the building into three one-bedroom holiday apartments and two two-bedroom cottages.
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Supporting the application Helen Iveson, a mother-of-five who owns The Mulberry Bush gift shop opposite the chapel on Main Street, told Hawes and High Abbotside parish council that property in the area might not be affordable but without thriving businesses nobody would want to live there.

“We need businesses to inject money into the area to keep it going. I want to keep services here and I want to keep people coming here. Without holiday properties to rent out there will be nowhere for people to stay,” she said.

But resident Andrew Fagg said that as a father of young children he wanted Hawes to offer a “a good prospect for them” and for other young families in the future, to avoid the “hollowing-out of Dales communities.”

“How about building five affordable dwellings for people to live in instead of turning a much-loved building into holiday lets?” he asked.

Mr Fagg, a Methodist preacher on the North Yorkshire circuit, criticised the Methodist Church authorities for having “abandoned” the building when they “handed it over to the market” and closed it in 2014.

“I think the local Methodist circuit have learned lessons. If it was put on the market today it would go for low-cost housing as they have done with Bainbridge chapel. If it works for Bainbridge it would work for Hawes,” he said.

Helen Iveson: “I want to keep people coming to Hawes.”

However, Councillor Ian Woolley, a former trustee of the chapel, said that at the time of the sale they had investigated the possibility of creating affordable homes to let but had “drawn a blank.”

“We were told it would not be viable for the amount of money required because of the shape and confines of the building. It was then marketed for six months and nothing happened. I can see no other use than something like this one,” he said.

Rachel Ford, planning consultant for the agents, Leeds-based Bowcliffe, said parking worries expressed by residents would be alleviated by allowing visitors a short time  to unload, and reserving spaces for them in the car park of the Dales Countryside Museum. Parking and servicing arrangements would be staggered to avoid congestion.

Resident Jack Sutton who had lived in the town for 25 years said he supported the principle of affordable housing. The number of holiday properties and second homes had increased dramatically in that time.

“We want a balanced community of businesses and residents. We don’t want Hawes to become a ghost town only populated in the summer,” he said.

Councillor Stewart Hunter said the proposal seemed “slightly excessive for the area” and thought there might be room for compromise.

“We have someone prepared to invest in the town and the affordable housing opportunity has now gone. We need to compromise because we can’t end up just doing nothing. Too late to go back to affordable housing now.”

Council chairman John Blackie noted there was “a complete division of views” and said it was essential for the final decision to be made by the national park’s planning committee of which he was a member.

He said that although the affordable housing scheme might not have worked at the time the chapel was sold, the government had recently made available £500 million nationally through Homes England for grants to develop affordable housing to rent.

“There is a  drive at government level for community led housing with very substantial grants available, so the calculations may be very different now from even two years ago,” he said.

The council failed to support the proposed development by four votes to two, citing parking, traffic disruption and over-development fears.