Plans to convert a Sunderland church into self-contained flats have been given the green light by city development chiefs, despite opposition from neighbours.

Sunderland City Council’s planning department has approved an application for a site described as ‘Bethesda Church’ in the St Peter’s ward.

The purpose-built church building in Bright Street, which is also known as the Hallgarth Mission, has a long history serving the community as well as links to Sunderland benefactor Sir John Priestman.

It is understood that the building includes kitchen and office spaces together with a hall, meeting rooms and washroom facilities.

Under plans submitted to council officials last year, permission was sought to convert the site into residential accommodation.

A planning application said the site was vacant and described it as a “former mission building”, with floor plans showing how the building would be subdivided under planning proposals.

This included apartments situated across the building’s ground, first and second floors, with one apartment per floor.

Each proposed apartment had a similar layout offering two bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, as well as living room and kitchen areas.

During a council consultation exercise on the plans however, there were 22 public objections raising a range of concerns.

Concerns included claims the development would become a house in multiple occupation (HMO), along with fears about impacts on local property values, parking pressures and increased anti-social behaviour.

One objector said the church “has a lot of history in the local community” and “should be left as a meeting place for local residents”.

Another objector said “the mission hall should be converted to enhance the community in this area, not drive our property prices down”.

Sam Johnston, who was a councillor for the St Peter’s ward at the time of the council consultation last year, said the plans would have a “negative impact” on the character of the area and raised other concerns.

Mr Johnston’s consultation statement said the change of use would be “inappropriate from a heritage perspective”, due to the loss of a long-standing community facility, and that the development would “worsen” existing parking issues.

Northumbria Police, which was also consulted on the plans, did not object but noted the development “could add up to six further vehicles in the area” which “may cause tension within the locality of the proposal”.

However, a consultation comment from the council’s transportation team raised no objections to the flats plan.

The consultation statement said: “It is noted that there is no provision of off-street parking for the site, however, it is considered that the traffic expected to be generated from the proposed three self-contained flats will be less than the site’s existing use.

“Therefore transportation development have no objections to the proposed development”.

After considering the planning application and assessing it against planning policies, Sunderland City Council’s planning department approved it on June 6, 2024.

The planning permission is subject to a number of planning conditions including a noise assessment being submitted to the council for approval before the flats are occupied.

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This aims to set out “details of any mitigation measures necessary to achieve a satisfactory noise climate within the proposed dwelling and in any immediate external amenity area associated with it”.

Under planning conditions, works to convert the site also need to be brought forward within three years.

For more information on the planning application or council decision, visit Sunderland City Council’s planning portal website and search reference: 23/01179/FUL.