New Larbert church ‘not wanted’ claims campaigner

Controversial plans to build a new church in Kinnaird Village are “not wanted” by the community, a campaigner has said.

Since the application to build a new home for Larbert-based Grace Church was first submitted, nearly 2000 comments have been received by Falkirk Council’s planning department, with 1030 against and 955 in favour.

But Kinnaird resident Gary Wilson, who has led a long-running campaign against the plans, believes many of those supporters are not local but belong to similar churches from around the world.

He submitted a Freedom of Information request and claims it shows that while 955 comments were in support for building a new church on McIntyre Avenue, just 33 of them came from people living in the catchment area for Kinnaird Primary School.

Mr Wilson said: “The community has spoken and it couldn’t be clearer – the development is unwanted.

“The applicant knows the community has rejected their proposal and sought support from like-minded individuals from literally around the world in an effort to give a false impression of support.”

The proposed building would be a permanent home for Grace Church – which was formed in 2013, when the minister and a group of elders from Larbert Old Parish broke away from the Church of Scotland.

Grace Church has promised residents the £2 million building will transform a vacant piece of ground into an asset for the community, which they say will be open to everyone to use.

Minister Reverend Andrew Randall says Mr Wilson’s figures are not accurate.

He said: “The Falkirk Council planning portal simply records the total number of comments made, not the number of objectors.

“We understand that, of those comments, hundreds resulted from a local campaigner – who makes no secret of his hostility to our Christian beliefs – encouraging those who had already commented to do so again using another template response written by him.

“The campaigner in question claims that there is little local support for the development.

“This is based on a definition of ‘local’ which, bizarrely, excludes most of Larbert and Stenhousemuir, including homes within a short walking distance of the site.

“In reality, hundreds of local people have submitted statements of support for our application, although we know of others who have been too fearful to voice their support because of the hostile nature of the campaign against us.

“Many members of our church live in the Inches-Kinnaird area, and already play an active part in the community there.”

Many of those objecting say the number of parking spaces is nothing like enough for a congregation of 300, most of whom they believe do not live locally.

In December, the church submitted a revised planning application it hoped would address concerns but Mr Wilson still thinks the parking provision would be “woefully inadequate”.

Mr Randall said: “The number of objections to our application stems from the large volume of misinformation which has been circulated about our church for the last year, together with inaccurate claims about the level of parking required for the development.

“The campaign’s real objection is to our Christian beliefs, and has nothing to do with car parking.

“As we have said before, we are simply a Christian church proclaiming news of a God who wants us all to know love, joy and peace through Jesus Christ.

“We look forward to transforming an ugly, derelict site into a building with enormous benefits to the community, and one where everyone – without exception – will be made welcome.”

Falkirk Council says this is an ongoing planning application and at the moment it cannot comment on the number of comments received.