November 2, 2016
Concerns raised over plans to demolish 'historic' Highbridge church

Concerns have been raised this week that a 'historic' former church in Highbridge is set to be demolished without any public consultation first.

The former Highbridge Gospel Tabernacle building in Newtown Road is due to be pulled down after its owner lodged a Demolition Order with Sedgemoor District Council.

"There's concern that Highbridge is about to lose more of its rich cultural heritage without anyone knowing what will replace it," Highbridge town councillor John Parkes, pictured, told this week.

"Several residents have got in touch with me about the planned demolition. As the building is not occupied, there's no planning application process to go through."

"The owner is correctly following the planning rules, but we'd just like to know what the future holds for the site. We don't want another Highbridge Hotel situation, albeit on a smaller scale where the site is left vacant for a protracted period of time. Regardless of the site being a bit of an eyesore, it will be a shame if another part of Highbridge's heritage is lost and more housing is built."

Sedgemoor District Council spokeswoman Claire Faun confirmed to "We have received a demolition order. It is an advisory form, not one for us to consider approving or not. It is not a listed building or in a conservation area. The owner of a building can apply to us for an order - and we advise them of the process they have to follow under Section 80 of the Building Act."

Nine years ago, in 2007, we reported on a petition to try and seek improvements for the derelict church but no action was forthcoming despite local residents' concerns about the condition and use of the property.

The story behind Highbridge's former Gospel Tabernacle:

Highbridge historians believe the building in Newtown Road was initially built as a Seaman’s Mission.

It later became the Plymouth Brethren Gospel Hall but was apparently closed in the early 1950s.

It later re-opened and in 1973 the South and West Evangelical Trust gave the Reverend Black the use of the building who spent several years repairing it, overseeing roof repairs and a new floor.

An attempt was made to purchase land at the rear so that the church could expand and build toilets, but this was unsuccessful. Despite this, the hall was renamed the Gospel Tabernacle Evangelical Church and it became popular with meetings for children, with up to five meetings a week attracting 60-80 children.

In 1991, the Reverend Black retired and moved back to the States. One of his sons, Kelton, continued his father’s work at the Gospel Tabernacle for several years however the condition of the property was poor and it was found to be impossible to improve the facilities inspite of all their efforts.

During the mid-1990s the Salvation Army Citadel in the old Burnham Road came on the market and it was purchased by the South and West Evangelical Trust who then provided the opportunity for a ‘new’ Gospel Tabernacle Evangelical Church to be introduced. Their first service was held on Easter Sunday, 1998, and the Newtown Road property has been disused since then.


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