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Church prayers answered as ABC Council gives blessing to ‘community hub’ at Benetton store

The former retail unit, just off McCrum's Court, will be transformed to 'provide a permanent home and meeting place for Armagh City Vineyard and to facilitate church-related events'

Former United Colors of Benetton unit Armagh

Plans by an Armagh church to create a new community hub at the city’s former Benetton store have been given the blessing of ABC Council.

The green light will see the unit – which is part of Lennox House and sits next door to the O2 store and adjacent to the Mall West Shopping Centre – completely transformed.

Armagh I revealed in February the proposals which had been drawn up by the Armagh City Vineyard Church.

And now we can reveal again that the church’s prayers have been answered with planning officials recommending, and council accepting, that the development proceed.

A change of use has been granted for a “sui generis church-led community hub”.

The proposals also incorporate an auditorium, multi-use room and ancillary accommodation, which would include kitchen, store and toilets.

The new church building would boast floorspace in excess of 2,600 sq ft.

The development would also require other minor changes to the elevations, which includes the removal and replacement of the United Colors of Benetton store signage and an advertising board.

Planning officials, in considering the application, were “content that the proposal is acceptable at this location
subject to all other planning and environmental considerations”.

A professional planner’s report states: “Whilst a church use is considered to be a sui generis use, officers consider the proposal will contribute to enhancing the existing community facilities within the central area and in turn benefit local residents.”

The proposal was considered to “serve the community” and was therefore in keeping with planning policy.

The report adds: “In addition to church services, the use will also provide community services such as counselling sessions/support groups, advice, a foodbank and youth services…

“A church/community hub is considered to be an appropriate town centre use and is therefore appropriate to be located within the centre of Armagh.”

Considering hours of operation and the separation distance from neighbouring properties, officers were of the opinion that the change of use would not cause a detrimental impact.

“The busiest event of the week will be the Sunday morning gathering, starting at 10am and concluding before 1pm,”  the report states.

“Notwithstanding this, officers are mindful that the premises will operate at a lesser capacity at other times during both daytime and evening hours.”

According to supporting information, the development would be an expansion of the Vineyard Church’s presence in Armagh City.

It already has accommodation close by, at Scotch Street, which is used for “admin and counselling purposes”.

The statement adds: “Larger meetings, typically at weekends, take place at Armagh Cricket Club, as part of an event-based weekly rental.

“The church undertakes significant outreach and support services, mainly from the Scotch Street premises. Programmes include breakfast clubs, grief counselling services, youth services, addiction recovery, managing money, drop-in, to name but a few.”

And it adds: “The purpose of this application is to provide a permanent home and meeting place for Armagh City Vineyard and to facilitate church-related events.”

That permanent home now looks set to become a reality with the thumbs-up now given to press ahead!

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