The Church of St Peter & St Paul, in the quiet Essex village of Birch, has stood empty for more than 24 years.
Due to this extended period of neglect the church is now derelict, and the Diocese of Chelmsford wish to demolish it.
The Trust is campaigning to save the building and has completed a viability study which would save the property by converting most of the building into a family home.
The Church of St Peter & St Paul, a notable landmark in the countryside southwest of Colchester, was designed by Samuel Sanders Tuelon and built in 1850. Tuelon was a key figure in the architectural style known as the English Gothic Revival. Among many other commissions, he designed the slavery emancipation monument which stands in the grounds of the Houses of Parliament. Birch Church is one of his classic designs. It forms part of a collection of buildings on an agricultural estate that also includes almshouses and a school. The church fell out of use and has been vacant for 30 years.
The Diocese of Chelmsford have been seeking a new use for the building over a considerable time. In 2013 the Trust produced a report outlining ways the building could be sustainably preserved, the report can be here.
The Viability Appraisal
The Diocese has announced plans to demolish Birch Church. We submitted objections in the first instance and then made a personal presentation to the Church Commissioners. We asked them for a short postponement in proceedings to allow us to undertake a study to finally ascertain the prospects for saving the church.
This work focused on the possible conversion of the church to residential use. Despite the cost of work exceeding the likely end value, two prospective purchasers were found and the Trust decided to back a scheme submitted by Mr & Mrs Cottee which involved developing the church as a single house for their own family.
The viability appraisal and details of the “Cottee Scheme” were submitted to the Church Commissioners and the Diocese. However, the Diocese subsequently decided to proceed with their plans to demolish the church. The Trust lodged representations to the Secretary of State calling for a Public Inquiry. We were supported by similar objections from English Heritage (now known as Historic England), The Victorian Society and the Ancient Monuments Society together with a substantial petition from the local community.
We currently await details of when the inquiry is to be held but have appointed an expert legal team in readiness.
We will keep you updated with news regarding the process of the Public Inquiry.