Parish council battles charity’s proposed community facility

The former Methodist chapel in Aysgarth.

A heritage charity’s plan to convert a former chapel close to Wensleydale tourism hotspot into a venue to teach crafts and building conservation as well as a home has run into opposition, amid claims there are already sufficient community facilities in the village.

Aysgarth Parish Council has issued “strong objections” to Dream Heritage’s proposal to use 30 per cent of the popular village’s former Methodist chapel as a flat for a caretaker ahead of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee considering the proposal on Tuesday.

The East Yorkshire-based community interest company bought the chapel after congregations dwindled and the Methodist Church’s property division refused to sign off a project to turn it into affordable housing.

Dream Heritage works to join communities with their local heritage assets, such as churches, and its workers have a range of skills to give buildings a renewed purpose.

Its website states: “We are a social enterprise delivering community heritage projects and archaeological excavations to save and transform unloved heritage sites into community spaces.”

The charity said it would run low-cost courses for a small number of people and that the accommodation would mean the building is maintained, heated and occupied sufficiently to safeguard its future.

Dream Heritage added its proposal was “community use” as its heritage work will be of benefit to the wider Dales community, and is in line with the statutory purposes of the national park to conserve cultural heritage and promote enjoying its special qualities.

However, the parish council said the village’s Aysgarth Institute charity, hosted a spectrum of community events, and was maintained without the need for anyone living there and that the chapel had been maintained since 1901 without having had a resident.

Outlining its objection, a parish spokesman said: “The Institute is well integrated with the village and is successful due to the support from Aysgarth residents and the wider local communities.

“The chapel was sold at a reduced price lower than market rate with a restrictive covenant for community use. The Aysgarth Institute provides a wealth of community facilities and does not have the need for

The parish council said visitors to the chapel would “further exacerbate the chronic shortage of parking” in the village.

An officer’s report to the committee states although the building is capable of continuing to fulfil a community use, “submissions from the parish council would suggest that there is no need for a further community building in the village, the Institute fulfilling all the community’s needs”.

Officers said they did not consider the proposal to constitute a community use, but rather “an education/business use” which was an appropriate use of the building.

Recommending Dream Heritage’s scheme be approved, the report concludes: “It is therefore considered that the conservation benefits of the proposed development outweigh the loss of a potential community use and that the proposed use would not be demonstrably worse in highway safety and congestion terms than the current use or potential permitted uses.”