Portsmouth Scout group fears it will close if church buildings are demolished for new homes 

Youth groups and users of St Nicholas Church in Copnor protest at plans to knock down the vicarage and church hall for re-developement. At the front, Martin Lewis, left, and Liam Buckland of 61st Portsmouth Scouts.'Picture Ian Hargreaves  (180925-1_church)
Youth groups and users of St Nicholas Church in Copnor protest at plans to knock down the vicarage and church hall for re-developement. At the front, Martin Lewis, left, and Liam Buckland of 61st Portsmouth Scouts.'Picture Ian Hargreaves (180925-1_church)

A Scout group in Portsmouth could be forced to close if plans for new housing on a church site are approved.

Members of the 61st Portsmouth Scouts have said they will have no choice but to disband if land owned by St Nicholas Church on Battenburg Avenue is redeveloped into six family homes.

The scheme would see Compton Hall, the vicarage and the Scout's hut, which is currently used for storage, demolished to make way for the new dwellings.

But the Scouts, as well as various other groups, fear that the removal of Compton Hall, which they use for meetings, will spell the end.

The leader of the 61st Beaver Scouts, Martin Lewis, said: 'We just don't know what is going to happen. The main problem is that everyone who uses the hall and all the nearby residents have been kept in the dark about what is going to happen.

'Several of our children have disabilities. We have never turned a child away. This is what we do. This will have a huge affect on children with disabilities.

'We have looked at other places but there is nowhere big enough for our groups and with the right access for some of our members. Also we can't go too far away from the area because it's a lot to ask of parents to drive their children across the city when traffic is so bad.'

The 66-year-old, who is also a resident of adjacent Compton Road, added: 'The church group have said we will have a month to find somewhere new if it gets permission.

'But if this goes ahead it is more than likely this will be the end of our Scout group.'

His peer, Liam Bullard, 34, was concerned about the development's impact on the local community. The Scout leader said: 'These are  not just little houses. They will be family houses. And knowing modern families it is likely the children will stay a long time and get their own cars so they will be adding even more to the parking problem.

'So it won't just be six cars but it could end up being more like 16 extra cars.

So far the application that was submitted earlier this month has garnered 31 objections and one letter of support from residents.

But a spokesperson for the Diocese of Portsmouth explained that the development was necessary for the future of the church. They said: 'A couple of years ago we let all our church hall users know that we were planning to sell part of the hall, the vicarage, and a small strip of land, in order to fund development that would help us to reach out into our community into the future.

'Maintenance of church buildings is of course expensive, and as we don’t have any financial reserves we have to sell some of our assets to do this vital work and ensure that our buildings can remain available for future generations.

'We’re still in a process of consultation with the local community, and are happy to hear any views. We recognise there will be some short term disruption, but popular access routes will be maintained for the future, and it will mean that we can keep an open door and a warm welcome for many years to come.'

Already the change has led to the relocation of the St Nicholas Pre School and could affect the Blue Tiger Martial Arts Academy, two Brownies groups, a Rainbow group and a line dancing club.

Planning permission will be considered at a future Portsmouth City Council planning committee.

Karen Banks, aged 55, works at St Nicholas Pre School which was forced to move to North End Bowls Club as a result. She said: 'The Pre School had been in that church for 60 years. It has served a lot of people in the community and the surrounding area.

'About four years ago they were talking about redeveloping but nothing really came of it. They told us we would have to move if building work started.

'By about March this year we decided we needed to find somewhere else. In July we had a letter to say we needed to move out in July. If we hadn't already started looking we would have had nowhere to go.

'We are happy there but it has just caused us an awful lot of stress over the years. We had to half the number of children we have because the new place is smaller and three staff members have left.

'It's a non-profit group that's run by parents and volunteers and it's such an important part of the community.'