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New church tower? We’ve been waiting 150 years

Neighbours raise objections to building work amid fears of loss of light and blocked views

30 August, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Father Gideon Wagay outside the church

PLANS to crown a church in Holloway with a tower have been revealed as elders bid to realise a vision first set out 150 years ago.

A lack of cash frustrated the church’s ambitions to finish the building in the 19th century but the challenge of Islington’s planning system could provide a more modern-day hurdle.

The move to add the tower on top of the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Eden Grove initially received 21 objections from nearby residents.

Some argued that the 15.5-metre tower will plunge them into darkness and leaseholders fear their property will fall in value as their views across the capital are obstructed.

Father Gideon Wagay, who has been the parish priest for 16 years, said: “We want to honour the legacy of the people who first built the church. We want to complete what they have started.”

In the 1850s the congregation, mostly made up of Irish immigrants, scraped together materials and any spare cash they could get to build a church.

Victorian architect Frederick Pownall produced a design, but a shortfall in funds meant the tower was “capped off” resulting in a “squat, truncated” block, according to design documents.

Successive priests have considered finishing the project.

How the new church tower could look

Fr Gideon said: “The skyline has changed. When I arrived it was derelict around here. Housing blocks have been built up around us and we are now being dwarfed. The tower will be faithful to the original plan.”

The planning application, made by the Westminster RC Diocese Trust, will be brought before the council next week with officers recommending that councillors grant planning permission.

The brick tower will have a 1.5-metre ornamental wrought iron cross on top, if the proposal is approved.

The building is Grade II listed and lies within the St Mary Magdalene conservation area.

Usually, alterations to listed buildings are very strictly regulated but listed Roman Catholic churches are exempt from such stringent regulations under the Ecclesiastical Exemption Order 2010.

Residents were first consulted last May and then again in April this year. Objectors in nearby Carronade Court say it will reduce the amount of daylight they receive and “block the view of the city, in particular, St Paul’s Cathedral”.

There is also concern about noise caused by the construction and proposals to put a bell in the tower.

Westminster diocese senior parish building surveyor Chris Fanning, whose grandparents were married in the church, said: “What a crusade it has been getting planning permission.”

Mr Fanning added: “We are doing this for the people of the parish who never thought they would live to see the church completed.”

The church has yet to line up funding for the work but is seeking permission to build before a wider appeal for donations.

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