Baptist group refused permission to use shed as chapel

Members of a Baptist church in Clare were refused permission to use a shed attached to a residential home to assemble for prayer.

Members of a small Baptist church in west Clare will have to seek a new place of worship after being refused planning permission to use a shed attached to a residential home to assemble for prayer.

An Bord Pleanála has overturned a decision of Clare County Council to approve the use of the shed near Doolin, Co Clare, as a chapel for the Bethel Baptist congregation.

The decision to grant retention planning permission for the church by the local authority was appealed by three other local landowners who are based in the UK and the US. They had complained about the “creeping development” of the use of the property at Doonagore, outside Doolin, for religious-based activity and feared that an adjoining property had been bought as part of plans to develop a religious retreat centre.

The objectors said a condition imposed by Clare County Council that the shed, which contains several pews, a pulpit, and an organ, could only be used as a place of private worship was “vague and ineffective”. They highlighted a “brazen” banner placed outside the property which stated: “All welcome for the solemn worship of almighty God.”

The shed has been used as a chapel since March 2014 with morning and evening worship held on some Sundays in March and June to September. A post published by the Bethel Chapel said it hoped it would be possible to gradually increase the frequency of such occasions.

An Bord Pleanála ruled that the size and capacity of the building as well as an associated car parking surface was not commensurate with its declared use as a place of private worship by the owner of the property, Anthony Cracknell.

The board said the use ran contrary to planning policy for the area which was to discourage any development unrelated to agriculture and the rural economy.

“The proposed development would therefore set an undesirable precedent,” said the board.

It also ruled that the use of the building, which is located near a busy crossroads at Doonagore, as a place of worship could pose a hazard to the free and safe flow of traffic in the area.

Mr Cracknell, a preacher based in Wattisham, Suffolk, disputed claims that he had shown a history of disregard for planning requirements.

However, planning files show Mr Cracknell has been issued with a warning letter and enforcement notice by Clare County Council in the past 18 months about the unauthorised use of the shed as a place of worship. The evangelist, who visits Ireland for around six weeks each year, said the chapel was only used as a place of worship for himself and his friends five or six times a year.

An Bord Pleanála said the capacity of the chapel and associated car park was suitable for numbers above those living in the adjoining house. A planning inspector said they also diminished the visual amenities of the area and could impact on the value of other properties.

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