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Source : 14/01/2000 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

The new Jesus Fellowship centre in Northampton will be an asset to Northampton, it has been claimed.

The religious sect was given approval to turn the grade two listed art deco cinema into a place of worship for up to 1,500 people.

Plans had been rejected by borough councillors but a government inspector overturned the decision, saying the Abington Square building could be converted.

John Campbell, director of communications for the Jesus Fellowship, said: 'It is important that the town centre is open for a variety of different things going on, not just shops, pubs and clubs, but a place of worship too.'

'We are very pleased, although this is not unexpected. I think the grounds the council gave for refusing permission were very thin, and the inspector's report indicates that.'

'It is a mystery to me why this should have happened.'

Labour members of the council's development control sub-committee rejected two separate applications for the conversion on the grounds that the arrival and dispersal of large numbers of people could be a risk to the safety of pedestrians and traffic.

Councillor John Dickie, council leader, said yesterday: 'Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome, but we are pleased that our suggestion for footway resurfacing and pedestrian guard rails has been approved by the inspector and made a condition of the development.'

The Jesus Fellowship does not own the building and is currently in negotiations to buy it.

A date for the conversion work to start has yet to be fixed.

The Jesus Fellowship did not seek costs from the council after their victory and because the decision was made at a hearing and not an inquiry, officers did not need legal representation.

Councillor Phil Larratt, Conservative planning spokesman, sat in at the hearing in December.

He said yesterday: 'I hold no candle for the Jesus Army, but I think the council's refusal was not based on planning grounds.'

'There was no reason for it to be refused.'

'This has taken up planning officers' time; there had to be a lot of preparation for the hearing.'