A History of St. Michael's Catholic Church

From Early Times until 1997

Compiled and Written by Monica McAllister

Chapter 8: An Appeal is made

Following this initial informal discussion, it was decided to reapply for planning permission, requesting permission only for the building of a church and putting aside the problem of a school for the time being. Escalating costs, apart from other considerations, would have ensured that the parish had enough on its hands to payoff a debt on a new church without the additional financial burden of building a school. However it was envisaged that a school would be built on part of the site, at a later date.

Consequently, on October 7th 1963, Mr French wrote to Leatherhead Urban District Council and formally requested permission to build a new church on the site, which had been designated in 1944 and was next to Woodfield Lane. In his letter he referred to the objections, that he anticipated the Council would make, and went some way towards refuting them. He expressed his opinion that the church would enhance, rather than detract from, the amenities of the neighbourhood. He pointed out that the present church was a temporary structure, aesthetically unattractive, and only able to seat 120 people. He denied that a church, adjacent to Woodfield Lane, would cause congestion as there would be a car park behind it. He also denied that there would be a problem of noise as trees surrounding the site would not be removed and would form an adequate sound barrier. With his letter he enclosed statements from nearby residents who had seen and accepted the plans and who did not ob-iect to the building of a church on this site.

Father Maxwell was also very active at this time. As well as looking after the spiritual needs of the parish and coping with a rapidly deteriorating temporary church he was visiting all the near neighbours in The Marld and in Woodfield Lane, writing to important local people and encouraging his parishioners to write personally to the local authority and emphasise the need and desire for a 'proper' church on the original designated site. Eighty individual letters were written by different parishioners. Apart from one anonymous letter, which came from a group of young parishioners, all pleaded for planning permission to be given for the building of the church.

Among supportive letters were ones from Lord Barnby, Lord of the Manor of Ashtead, and the Rev. John Halsey, Rector of the Anglican Parish of Ashtead. Lord Barnby's letter was totally supportive and contained the following comment "I would add that my own experience in similar situations elsewhere has been that the Church of Rome has magical powers of swift assembly of funds"! In his letter the Rev. John Halsey stated that if he owned such a site he would have no hesitation in building his church on the spot which had been chosen.

Mr. B.M.Crowther of 'Westfield', a large house in The Marld, wrote on 7th October a very courteous and supportive letter to the Clerk of the Council. He explained that he had seen the plans for the new church and was aware of some of the points which might be discussed. He was writing as a private individual and a resident close to the site. He put forward the following points:-

  • The proposal to build the church on that particular site was not a new one. It had always been understood that that site was where eventually a church would be built.
  • A well-designed church, built on that site, would be much better than some of the undistinguished buildings, which were appearing along Woodfield Lane.
  • The proposed church would be a dignified building which would not dominate its surroundings and would be set well back from the road.
  • Very many of the existing trees, on the site, would be preserved.
  • As it would be obligatory to provide a car park, it would be better for this to be sited behind the church. If the church was to be built on the site of the temporary chapel then the most likely result would be for the car park to occupy the site on the land bordered by Woodfield Lane. This would be most unattractive.
  • The argument that siting the church near to Woodfield Lane would cause congestion as people would park their cars there, would be invalidated by the provision of a large adequate car park behind the church.

Mr. Emery of ‘The Gables’ in Woodfield Lane was equally supportive and, although more reserved, Mr Pocock of ‘Squirrels Leap’ indicated that he would be satisfied if sufficient trees were left to screen the new church from his property.

The Town Planning Committee met on October 10th 1963 and the minutes record that it was resolved to refuse planning permission.  Eight members voted for refusal, two voted against and two abstained.  Formal refusal was confirmed at the Council meeting on October 22nd and on November 14th an official notice of this was sent to the architect.  A revised application was submitted the following month and that was also refused.

The reasons for refusal were that the site, where the hut chapel stood, was delineated on the town map as a place of public worship and should be used for that purpose and, as the site for which application had been made was designated for residential dwellings, a church would be detrimental to the visual and aural amenities of the adjacent properties.

This was a bitter blow for both Father Maxwell and Mr. French had hoped that the many supportive letters would have persuaded the council to react favour ably and grant planning permission. However this had not happened but neither Father Maxwell not Mr. French was prepared to accept this decision as final. After consultation with the Diocese, it was decided that a formal appeal should be made to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Father Maxwell continued to look to local people for support and in November 1963 he wrote to the Chief Constable of Surrey as one of the main objections to the Woodfield Lane site was that traffic congestion would be caused by the resulting parked cars. The Chief Constable's reply indicated that the site had been visited and that Surrey Constabulary could foresee no such problem as a car park was to be provided and they assumed that the church authorities would ensure it was used.

Early in 1964, the architectural firm of the late Eduado Dodds was disbanded and Mr. French became a member of the firm of Brian Ring, Howard and Partners of Berkeley Square. He continued as our church architect. Acting on the advice of Mr. Delves, an Appeals specialist, he drew up a form of Presentation of Appeal and wrote in March 1964 to Father Maxwell to tell him about this. He also wrote to Canon Callanan, at Bishop's House, and stated the grounds for appeal.

These were based on the fact that the proposed church would not be detrimental to the visual and aural amenities of adjacent residential properties as it was carefully designed and would have proper access to a carpark at the rear. This would relieve congestion in Woodfield Lane and The Marld and they would retain the existing trees and planting. Mr French added, in his letter, that he would delay submitting this formal appeal until he was notified of diocesan approval.

There must have been some delay on the part of the Diocese in replying to this, as on May 25th a very despairing letter was written by Father Maxwell to Mr. French. The insurers had refused to give cover against fire and storm damage to the hut chapel unless spbstantial repairs were carried out. Father Maxwell was very upset that, although it had been decided in December 1963 that an appeal should be made, nothing very much seemed to have happened. Although there are no further records concerning these repairs, it seems that they would have had to be done as the hut had to survive another winter.

Things must soon have begun to happen because Mr. French had submitted his appeal on April l7th. On July 6th a reply was sent, stating that the Minister could not deal with such an appeal, on the basis of written evidence alone. He considered that the best Drocedure was for one of his Inspectors to hold a Local Public Inquiry, when all concerned could put forward their views. On 4th August official notice of the inquiry date and procedure were sent to the architect. It was not to take place until November 11th.

Preparations were made for this hearing as it was essential that the best possible case was presented. Father Maxwell had already informed Mr. French that a new library and Health Centre was planned and that these would be built along Woodfield Lane. He considered that, as these could not be deemed 'residential property', there had already been a deviation from the designated town plan and he hoped that this fact would further strengthen our argument.

The diocesan solicitor, Mr. Leonard Callendar of Messrs. Arnold, Fooks, Chadwick and Co., was instructed to ensure that the parish was legally represented. He briefed Miss Monique Viner, a young Catholic barrister. She chose to call Mr. L. Lamden, chartered surveyor from Osenten & Lamden and Co., Father Maxwell, Very Rev. Canon Crowley of the Southwork Diocesan Schools Commission and Mr. P. French as principal witnesses. She would also have been able to refer to the 80 or so letters from parishioners and nearby neighbours.

Before the appeals procedure took place public notices were displayed thus giving time for any interested bodies to make further submissions. It is interesting to note that the Ashtead Resident's Association wrote, as late as November 10th, to state that their objection was based totally on the expected problem of cars parked outside the church in Woodfield Lane.

On November Ilth the Appeal was heard by Mr. E.L.Crawford A.R.I.B.A., in the Council Offices at Leatherhead and commenced at 10.30 am. The Leatherhead Urban District Council had instructed Mr. Stuart Shields to represent them and he called Mr. A.F.Alexander, who was Engineer, Surveyor and Planning Officer to the L.U.D.C.. Mr. Bennett spoke on behalf of the Ashtead Residents and Mr. Farmer, Mrs Scroggins and Mrs Willer who were all local residents were also called to oppose the Appeal.

Father Maxwell never wavered in his belief that the appeal would be successful. This is indicated in a letter he wrote to Mr. French, the architect, in September 1964. In this letter he proposed several changes to the interior design of the church. One can only sympathise with the architect who must have been very involved with preparing his submission for the November hearing. Suddenly he had to return to his drawing board and make several further alterations.

The Appeal was heard and on December 7th Mr. Crawford sent his lengthy report to the Rt. Hon. Richard Crossman M.P. A copy of this report is in the parish archives. It ended with a recommendation that the appeal against the refusal of the L.U.D.C. to grant planning permission to build a church on the proposed site be allowed. There was a proviso that all the other local authority regulations should be observed. Quite when this information was communicated to the Diocese is uncertain but it was January 13th 1965 when the diocesan solicitor wrote to Father Maxwell and enclosed the official notice from the Ministry, allowing the appeal.

Fr Maxwell's Memorial