ELDC denies claims Woodhall Spa couple are being treated ‘unfairly’

Rob Ayling at the property.
Rob Ayling at the property.

A defiant Woodhall Spa couple say a dispute with planners at East Lindsey District Council will not destroy their dream of converting a former Methodist church into a family home.

Building work - costing around £250,000 - started on Rob Ayling and partner Sandy Huskisson’s conversion in Woodhall Spa earlier this year.

They hoped to move in by Christmas, but now say the earliest date is March.

They say the delay has been caused by ‘unequal and inconsistent’ decisions by planning officers, a claim denied by the district council.

Mr Ayling and Ms Huskisson secured planning permission for change of use from ELDC in February.

The permission included alterations to the windows on the western elevation of the building - but not the eastern side.

Mr Ayling explains he was happy to ‘go along’ with the decision by planners and apply for permission for the eastern elevation at a later date.

Using specialist masons who worked on the restoration of Lincoln Cathedral - and glass experts often employed by English Heritage - the western elevation was completed.

Mr Ayling says the work has drawn compliments from everyone who has seen it.

The alterations include new lintels and larger windows, adding light to the interior of the building.

However, ELDC’s conservation officer Rob Walker compiled a report which Mr Ayling says claims the work had ‘harmed’ the building.

Mr Ayling and Ms Huskisson dispute that, and submitted an application for the eastern elevation. Permission has been refused.

As a result, the lintels and windows on the eastern side are in the same dilapidated condition as when the couple bought the building.

Because they can’t increase the actual size of the windows, only the bottom 18 inches is visible beneath a new ceiling in one of the main interior rooms.

The couple say that room will be plunged into semi-darkness.

They are appealing the refusal, but say the whole process is causing them ‘time, stress and money.’

They point out that, although the church is an historic building and in a conservation area, it is NOT listed.

They have letters of support from neighbours, including some who have been allowed to put UPVC windows into listed buildings.

The couple say an older building, immediately behind the former church, also has UPVC windows.

Mr Ayling says permission was given for UPVC windows to be included at the nearby St Peter’s Church Hall which can be seen from the main road, unlike his building.

He says he has documents which show many other historic buildings in East Lindsey - including former churches - have been given permission for much more comprehensive external alterations.

The couple say that apart from one visit at the very start of the conversion, they are not aware Mr Walker has inspected the building.

Support for the couple has come from ELDC leader Craig Leyland, who is a ward councillor for Woodhall Spa, and the parish council.

Mr Ayling said: “Our dream (the family home) is still alive because we have come too far and spent far too much money to just walk away.

“All we are asking is to be treated equally and consistently by the planners.

“When you look at some of the other decisions regarding properties in this area, we feel some people are treated more equal than others.

“We are conserving a building which was unused, unloved and targeted by vandals.

”You would think the planners would want to recognise that.

“We are hoping to hold coffee mornings and yoga classes for the community, yet we keep being told by the planners that there is no community benefit.”

The western elevation of the building overlooks the road which leads to the Cottage Museum.

Mr Ayling stresses museum staff have ‘no problems’ with his plans.

Ms Huskisson admitted the delays and the extra cost were taking a toll and said: “We just want to finish the work so our family can move into their new home.”

ELDC’s Development Control Service Manager, Chris Panton, said: “The application site is a distinctive building within Woodhall Spa Conservation area where alterations to buildings, particularly where they are in a prominent location, should respect the character of the building and the wider Conservation Area.

“As part of the consideration of the owners’ proposal to alter the windows on the eastern elevation, consultation with various bodies was carried out, including the Council’s Conservation Officer who considered the proposal would harm the prominent eastern elevation of this important building in the Conservation Area.

“That specialist advice, along with all other material considerations, was taken into account when the application was refused.

“The Planning team were mindful of some local support and alterations to other buildings in the Conservation Area but each case has to be dealt with on its own merits and in this case the changes were not considered to be appropriate in this particular location.”

*ELDC have confirmed Mr Walker had ‘left the council.’