Division over Larbert church plans

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A controversial planning application to build a new church in Kinnaird village has now been submitted to Falkirk Council.

The £2 million 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 when it’s General Assembly agreed to allow openly gay clergy to be appointed.

The church, which now belongs to the International Presbyterian Church, is seeking to build on the site of the old Bellsdyke Hospital in McIntyre Avenue, Kinnaird Village.

Some residents are unhappy that a site originally identified in the masterplan as being suitable for a pub or restaurant will be taken by a church, claiming it is homophobic and not suitable to play such a central role in the community.

Grace Church, however, says its plans will “transform an unsightly derelict site into a vibrant community hub which can not only provide a permanent home for our growing church family, but also offer fantastic facilities to everyone in the local community”.

On its website, it claims it will deliver facilities “people have been asking for over many years now”, providing a large meeting space, a cafe, sports facilities, and various flexible rooms.

At the time of writing nearly 800 comments had been submitted to the council’s planning department – with 387 against and 335 in favour.

A petition against plans for the church attracted 1500 signatures and a Facebook page set up to oppose the building has been well supported.

Campaigner Gary Wilson, who lives in Kinnaird, said: “I don’t have a problem with Grace Church and I wouldn’t have any interest in it if they wanted to build in a town that had a lot of amenities.

“But there is very little in Kinnaird and this piece of ground is supposed to be safeguarded for development that ‘provides a significant degree of public access and community use provision’.”

Mr Wilson set up the ‘No to Grace Church Kinnaird’ Facebook page in January, and has since been joined in his campaign by other concerned Kinnaird residents who do not want to be named.

They are particularly worried about the impact  a church that can hold 300 people
 will have on parking and traffic.

Mr Wilson said: “None of the church’s directors are residents of our community, and I’m certain the majority of the congregation isn’t from here.

“This site should be used to help address the needs of the community – not make parking problems worse.”

When Mr Wilson first heard about the church’s plans, last year, he began some research and was horrified by what he felt to be its discriminatory attitudes to women and gay people – and by the fact that the church describes the community it intends to build in as ‘sin-sick’.

“They describe the site as being ideal because it’s right next to a primary school – I find that very worrying,” he said.

The campaigners have written to Rev Andrew Randall with specific questions, including asking if people in a same-sex relationship would be welcome at the church 
and welcome to use its facilities.

This week Mr Randall said: “Grace Church Larbert is a diverse and growing congregation of around 200 local people. Having concluded missives for the purchase of a plot of land in the Inches-Kinnaird area of Larbert, we are excited to have recently submitted for planning permission a superbly designed church and community facility.

“This attractive new building will include a café, sports hall, flexible meeting rooms and a large auditorium. Although primarily a permanent home for our church family, the facilities will also deliver much-needed community space at the heart of the Inches-Kinnaird development. Indeed, an extensive independent consultation exercise confirmed high demand for such facilities amongst local people.

“Our proposal therefore aims to transform an unattractive, derelict site into a vibrant hub from which the local community can benefit, even if they are not members of our congregation.

“We’re disappointed that although we intend to build the facilities at our own cost and to make them available to the community, we have been attacked through a Facebook campaign for our Christian beliefs. We are an ordinary Christian church with beliefs shared by thousands in the Falkirk area, and millions throughout the world.

“All parts of the community will be able to benefit from our new building. The use of our building will be in line with our charitable purposes and the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Our parking allocation is set for us in accordance with national guidelines, and we will work with planners to avoid inconvenience to local residents.

“The reason the site is ideal is simply because, near the school and the shopping area, it is at the heart of the Inches-Kinnaird development. That said, we would be glad to offer the school the use of the premises, with no strings attached, as part of our commitment to benefitting the local community.

“We believe that this facility will meet many local needs which have been sought for years, and be of huge benefit to the people of this area. Many of our members already live near the site and in the surrounding area, and from our new base we look forward to becoming an even more integral part of the local community.”