PEOPLE restricted to wheelchairs will soon be able to access a town’s ‘civic church’ in ‘dignity’ thanks to an influx of council funding.
Swathes of Havant councillors have rebelled against cabinet to pass a policy-bending amendment to allocate £21,500 to St Faith’s Church.
An application for the cash was rejected by Havant Borough Council’s cabinet on February 13, on the basis it would have contravened a policy not to allocate Community Infrastructure Levy funds to places of worship.
But 21 councillors backed an action proposed by St Faith’s councillor, Jackie Branson, at full council on Wednesday – resurfacing the decision and forcing it to be considered in a single vote alongside the borough’s £14m budget for 2019/20.
The £21,500 will now go toward installing automatic doors, a wheelchair-accessible toilet and basic catering facilities at St Faith’s Church.
The victory ‘delighted’ rector Canon Tom Kennar, who gave an impassioned deputation before councillors voted.
He said: ‘When the initial bid was rejected I was hugely disappointed because I felt the cabinet was failing to recognise the cultural value of this building.
‘It stands as a place where the whole community gathers for remembrance and at times of community celebration. It’s so much more than a place where Christians go for three hours-a-week to say their prayers.
‘I was not only absolutely delighted with the decision to give us a contribution towards the cost, but also with the very vocal support of a number of Havant councillors – including David Guest, David Keast, Ken Smith and Jackie Branson.
‘People in wheelchairs should have the right to go to the toilet in dignity when they use a public building and at the moment, here, they simply cannot. They have to find their way all the way over to the back of the Meridian Centre.’
The cash boost completes fundraising for St Faith’s Church Access Project – a segment of its Big Build restoration campaign which has seen its congregation raise £264,000 over four years.
Former cabinet member, councillor David Guest, said he was ‘very pleased’ the funding was granted to St Faith’s – a church he has been connected to since the 1950s.
‘It was bracketed as a religious building and that’s wrong because it’s much more than that,’ he said. ‘Anybody who would like to come into the church is welcome.’
Cllr Branson added: ‘It’s a community building that just happens to be a church – therefore I think it qualifies.’
Council leader Michael Wilson said the decision made on February 13 forced his cabinet to consider a ‘difficult balance’ based on policy.
Asked whether his previous view had changed, he said: ‘We have a policy in place and my view was the application didn’t meet the criteria of the policy.
‘What came out [on Wednesday] was the councillors didn’t believe the policy in place at the moment was fit for purpose and that will no doubt lead to a change when it goes to scrutiny.’
Community groups and other stakeholders will next be able to lodge Community Infrastructure Levy applications between Friday, June 28 and and Friday, August 9, 2019.