A CAMPAIGN group who previously fought to save Blackbird Leys' Grade-II listed church have now said they will agree to the its demolition if public benefit ‘outweighs’ its loss.

The Church of the Holy Family in Blackbird Leys first revealed plans to update their building, with new space to rent and flats to sell, in 2018.

The church, built in 1965, is Grade-II listed due to its unusual heart-shaped plan, intricate interior and timber roof.

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Since the planning application was put forward in 2018, several campaign groups have objected to its demolition.

Recent reports, however, revealing the cost of replacing the roof, which is currently leaking, have caused some campaigners to say that public benefit of a new church and living space could outweigh its preservation.

The Oxford Preservation Trust, in a letter published earlier this week, said ‘the existing Grade-II Listed Church building is the only listed building located within Blackbird Leys and as such plays an important role in the local area’s heritage’.

The trust added, however, that the cost of replacing the leaking roof and the benefits the renovation would bring to the wider community, meant that ‘exceptional circumstances’ for the church’s potential demolition had been demonstrated.

In a letter to Oxford City Council’s planning committee, the trust said: “Whilst the clear desire would be to keep and conserve the heritage asset, we feel that in this instance sufficient justification has been provided to demonstrate that this may not be possible both due to cost and flaws in the original design.

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“Furthermore, the provisions of the new community facilities and residential units provide benefit to the wider community.”

Therefore, the trust said if the council considered these ‘exceptional circumstances’ and that ‘substantial benefits will outweigh the loss of this protected building’ its demolition ‘could be’ permitted.

The letter was published after several reports had been made about how much it would cost to replace the roof.

Walker Associates, a chartered quantity surveyor, estimated re-roofing the church would cost over £1.4 million.

A report from Oxley Conservation, a historic buildings consultancy service, also highlighted that to replace the timber roof would cost over £1 million.

Historic England, a public body that looks after England’s historic environment, initially objected to the demolition of the church.

However, after the surveyor showed that the restoration of the church would not be feasible, the organisation also withdrew its objection.

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A spokesperson for Historic England said: “We have been advising Oxford City Council for some time about plans for the Grade II listed Holy Family Church, which has a particularly interesting and innovative roof structure. The church is facing major problems because of the condition of the roof and has had to close for safety reasons.

“We initially objected to plans to demolish the building and we commissioned a surveyor who specialises in historic buildings to report on whether it would be possible to repair the roof or replace it with an identical structure. The report concluded that repair or like-for-like replacement would not be feasible. As the only solution would involve the loss of the most interesting aspect of the building, we withdrew our objection to demolition.

“It is for Oxford City Council, as decision maker in the planning process, to make the final decision on the application.”

The Twentieth Century Society, a group that campaigns for ‘outstanding buildings’, however, continues to object to the demolition because of its rare hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

The society said it is objecting to the demolition ‘in the strongest possible terms’ and claims that ‘spare land on the site’ could be developed to fund the replacement of the roof.

It added that the city council should ‘refuse’ the planning application to replace the church with a new building.

Despite the estimated cost for the roof’s replacement and the retraction of objection from Historic England, the society said it ‘had no further comments to make’ and would ‘reiterate’ its previous letter as its official response.

Public consultation for the demolition of the church is now open until February 19.

You can have your say on the planning application by visiting www. public.oxford.gov.uk/online-applications.