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Church appeals against decision not to let them use Harlow Leisurezone

Faith Matters / Sun 5th Dec 2021 am31 11:37am

A CHURCH has appealed against a decision made by Harlow Council’s planning committee not to allow them to use the Harlow Leisurezone for services.

Isabel Engelbrecht of the CRC in London has written a long letter of appeal. The matter may go back in front of the committee.

The planning committee Ms Engelbrecht refers to is linked below.

Ms Engelbrecht said:

Further to the Refusal of the Planning Application for the Change of Use logged earlier this year for the space at the Harlow Leisure Zone, we have reviewed the video of the Committee meeting held on 8 June.

A number of unfounded allegations were made against our organisation, which we believe subsequently contributed to the application being refused.

In preparation for the Appeal Case, I herewith provide you with our formal response related to the aspects mentioned by the two attendees, and Councillor Tony Edwards.

One of the first concerns raised was that of the vaccine centre occupying the proposed leasing space. As verbally informed by the managers of the leisure centre, an alternative space for the vaccine centre has already been arranged, which we understand will be on the same site.

CRC was already in a position to sign the lease contract over four months ago for the said space, but in support of the current climate in terms of the pandemic and the need for vaccine centres, we were accommodating and postponed signing of the lease, offering the space to be used for an extended period as a vaccine centre – until such a time that the Change of Use application has been approved and an alternative space could be arranged for the vaccine centre.

An NHS representative informed us of their gratitude for this extension of time to avoid unnecessary disruptions, which we had fully cooperated with.

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It is a significant matter of concern to us that certain assumptions have been made about us as an organisation and a church. As an established charity, who has occupied and leased various venues across the city over the last 20 years, and impacted our communities only positively, we have a track record of exactly the opposite of the claims that were made.

We are well able to provide. references of other landlords and lessors that we have been in business with over the years, and we believe that our good reputation has largely contributed to the willingness of the management of the Harlow Leisure Centre to engage with us.

In one example, claimed that our mission statement presents a privacy issue to the leisure zone customers. We totally disagree with this allegation.

We are an established charity and organisation, governed by the strict privacy laws of the UK government. We have rented, and are still renting, multiple facilities in and around London and have done so for the last 20 years.

These venues include amongst others, the Cineworld in the O2, as well as the O2 Arena itself, the Copper Box Arena, Odeon Cinemas in West London, multiple hotel facilities and conference spaces, the Excel Centre, various community centres, schools, universities and colleges, of which none of these venues ever raised any concerns of potential harm related to ‘privacy issues’ caused by our ethos. This claim is not supported by any factual evidence and should be refuted.

It was further mentioned that we are a ‘tithing church’ and claims that it presents a potential risk to the economic wellbeing of vulnerable members of the community.

Again, as per the opening paragraph, we fail to see how this statement has a basis in terms of planning policy related to this change of use application.

As a church, we are appalled that this point is even being raised as a concern. We completely respect that people have different perspectives, views and beliefs and that each one has the freedom of choice to follow Christian values and principles according to the Bible, or not.

Every person who chooses to become a committed member of our congregation, and by implication, followers of the Christian faith according to what the Bible instructs, will be encouraged to adhere to the principles and teachings of the Word of God, and that includes the practice of tithing.

We openly teach the Christ-model that in life ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’, and it is the free choice of every member to willingly give of their time, talents, and finances so that the needs of others in our communities where we find ourselves may be met.

This principle is not enforced upon any member and people have a free choice of how they respond to Biblical teachings. (It is probably good to note, if the delegates of the meeting want to base a decision of planning permission on such an irrelevant point, that even the Church of England, which we were compared to albeit in a negative way, promotes the Biblical principle and practice of tithing. And of course, the majority of the income of charities in the UK is sourced from member donations – would the council have responded the same to another charity’s request for planning permission if this charity was non-religious or more specifically non-Christian? May we emphasize that it does seem quite discriminatory to raise this point at all.)

Furthermore, we find it extremely offensive that an accusation was made that a vulnerable community may be at risk of financial exploitation by our organisation. As a registered Charity and a financially independent Church movement and organisation, we have never asked for anything (including finances in the form of grants etc) from any local council or government where we have a church in the community – and we do not intend to do so in Harlow.

In fact, quite the opposite is true, as we always invest thousands of pounds in every venue and community to upgrade the facilities to excellent standards to bless the people of that particular community.

In the same way, we intend to invest a large amount of our organisation’s own finances into the space at the leisure zone to transform the prospective space into a useful facility where people can come and experience community, love and acceptance.

We have not, and will never, ask for any hand-outs when it comes to funding of our community services like youth groups, marriage counselling or rehabilitation programmes, which are all aimed at impacting, helping and bettering the people within the communities we find ourselves in – as we intend to do in Harlow.

People also referred to the potential risk to vulnerable and young users of the Leisurezone. We fail to see the truth in this fundamentally false statement.

CRC has hundreds of young people coming to their churches. We are constantly working with various schools and colleges that allow us to come and speak to their young people. We provide our services to these colleges, to help young people in this season of their lives, with positive results and effects on their mentality. We operate under the highest levels of safeguarding policies. But the salient point here is that there simply is no foundation for making a connection between our use of the location with anyone attending the leisure zone for fitness reasons.

Both and Cllr Edwards spent a considerable amount of time on examples of personal social media posts from the lead pastors of our church.

According to the guidelines of our government, we are still living in a free society where every person can have a voice to freely speak their mind, hold their particular viewpoint and their beliefs, and not be discriminated against for doing so. This is a fundamental principle of our free society. Thabo and Karen, as private persons, therefore also have a right to their own opinions on topics, and the freedom to raise them.

We respect that the delegates of the meeting who voted on our application also have a right to raise their beliefs and viewpoints, but probably not in a professional setting where personal viewpoints are not relevant to a topic, ie planning applications which are supported by policies and laws of the relevant authorities. The personal opinions of any member or leader of our congregation do not necessarily reflect the ethos of the organization itself, and in the same way, any personal opinion, view or belief from said speakers, and members of council, should not affect the decision-making process of this planning application.

CRC as an organisation is not, for example, against vaccinations. As the leaders of our organisation, who have their own views on certain subjects, they have never informed or tried to influence people towards their opinions when it comes to their personal well-being and health. This is each person’s free choice.

Cllr Edwards lastly referred to the council’s corporate priorities which includes well-being and social inclusion and noted this as at risk.

We are an inclusive church, with multiple cultures, races, ethnic groups within multiple communities in and around London, Essex and Kent.

We love, value and embrace all people and we are committed to treat all people equally and with respect, regardless of their culture, age, gender, ethnicity, education or belief.

We have been positively impacting the lives of people in the Harlow Community for the last 15 years, which is evidenced by the hundreds or people from the area that have become members of our church and who travel to London on a weekly basis to attend our services.

This is why it has become necessary for us to create a base for the members within this community who already form part of our congregation. If it was true that we pose a risk to a community in terms of well- being or social inclusion, would you not have expected to have seen issues raised to the authorities by now? Again, this statement is not factual and without any evidence to base it on.

This is a professional planning application, and not supposed to be a personal discrimination action against a church, which is a legitimate community use. Our aim is to uplift the community and its members, by encouraging people to have high moral values, serving, honouring, and respecting others and giving of themselves for the benefit of a community. How can a professional panel be so openly discriminating against a Christian Church?

Lastly, Cllr Edwards referred to the sports and leisure trust and its services, and that there is no mention of religious education; however, this is irrelevant, as a large proportion of the Leisure Centre has a lease aspect, which is beingoccupied by a wide variety of lessors, upon discretion and choice of the owners of the Leisure Centre.

It is important to note as we have notes that the Planning Officer’s recommendation to the Committee was to grant permission, and despite council officers having stated that there are no grounds for any demonstrable harm to the community in accordance with planning policy L2, and that the religion or ideology of any prospective occupier is not a material planning consideration, all claims that were subsequently made by both and Cllr Edwards, as well as the other Committee Members during discussions, were in fact personal and political viewpoints mainly around religion and the way the speakers and members assumed it is practiced by our organisation. There was no basis in terms of planning policy.

We are astounded that the Members of Council were so easily swayed by what we see as irrefutable discrimination against our organisation and church.

To summarise the above, it seems that the decision of the Harlow Council is not supported by any factual evidence, and the exemplary reputation of CRC as an organisation with all of its current and previous lessors states exactly the opposite of every argument brought by the delegates of the meeting.

Citing ‘harm to neighbours’ and discrimination as a reason for refusal (since the committee could not find any other legitimate reason for refusal) can not be acceptable, when in 20 years of operating as a church there is not one single allegation or case in any venue or community where we have churches that could provide evidence to support this reason.

We would insist that our case is reconsidered and that discussions of the committee are kept within professional boundaries, and based on planning policies and laws, without personal agendas influencing key decisions.

Kind Regards
Isabel Engelbrecht OBO CRC London

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12 Comments for Church appeals against decision not to let them use Harlow Leisurezone:

AB
2021-12-05 12:16:13

No denial of homophobia or other cult issues in this long, rambling, fact-lite epistle.

L
2021-12-05 12:49:35

I agree with the previous comment, they have been very carful not to address their stance on conversation therapy and their attitudes towards lgbtq+ comunity. I've lived in Harlow for over 30 years, Harlow has always been a very inclusive town and a defender of my comunity, allowing this church to take up residence in a center that is a center of physical and mental health would be a massive step back for our town/comunity.

L
2021-12-05 12:51:39

agree with the previous comment, they have been very carful not to address their stance on convertion therapy and their attitudes towards lgbtq+ comunity. I've lived in Harlow for over 30 years, Harlow has always been a very inclusive town and a defender of my comunity, allowing this church to take up residence in a center that is a center of physical and mental health would be a massive step back for our town/comunity.

novoman
2021-12-05 13:08:16

Setting up a Church or facilitating such is not within the remit of the Objects of the LeisureZone Trustees. There's no reference in the objects that allows the charity to minister to spirituality or the Church of any particular region. To quote from the Mems & Arts registered with the Charity Commission "TO PROVIDE OR TO ASSIST IN PROVIDING FACILITIES FOR RECREATION PHYSICAL EDUCATION OR OTHER LEISURE-TIME OCCUPATION IN OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE TOWN OF HARLOW AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD" Religion is not a physical activity, nor educational nor a leisure pursuit. Science Alive was and the town and Council and the Trustees, given the direction Harlow is taking as a centre for STEM industries need to focus on bringing these new industries together to establish a new STEM education centre in the LeisureZone to support our children, schools, teachers and link with the College to contribute to the development of our children and understand of the environment and Climate change. Religious profits or prophets have plenty of Churches they can share between themselves instead of continuing to divide people with religious squabbles. The LeisureZone Trustees betray their position of Trust and given the investment from the Harlow Recreational Trust and Gateway funding (which I recall may specifically exclude religious Church preaching and Churches) should reject the application to rent and oppose the planning application.

jarrett
2021-12-05 13:49:29

I feel a Phil Collins tune coming on.

Rhiannon Hin
2021-12-05 13:50:53

I agree with the comments above. Their organisation is homophobic and strongly against LGBT+ rights, a matter not in any way corrected in their letter. The Twitter posts were also covered with anti vaccine rhetoric, and it is a representation of their stance and community. Lastly why should this group be chosen to use the Leisurezone when it isn’t the correct fit, the centre should be free of religious dogma, open and inclusive to everyone.

David
2021-12-05 15:15:45

The church is not known for any anti-homophobic stance, hence should not be allowed to use Leisurezone premises. However, I must add that my expereince of the Leisurezone has been that they were certainly not gay friendly themselves. This is a case of "The pot calling the kettle black".

Nicholas Taylor
2021-12-05 16:29:14

One has to ask why the trustees of the Leisurezone have not in the meantime withdrawn their offer of accommodating this church in view of all the comments made on social media when this matter was first disclosed. The Leisurezone is no place for a church, this is not a Planning issue, the clue is in the title.

Matthew
2021-12-05 19:25:07

In the UK we are fortunate that we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech. We do not live in a totalitarian regime which brooks no dissent. Not everyone agrees with homosexual practice or transgenderism. It is their right to hold the belief that these are not good things. I find it ironic that those who are implying the CRC is hateful are themselves being hateful to the CRC. But, of course, the deeper thing going on here is, how we relate to Jesus's question, "Who do you say I am?".

Robbie
2021-12-05 19:50:18

Thank the Lord that God created Adam & Steve

Concerned
2021-12-06 09:23:57

CRC know the town so well they call Harlow a city. Beware any Church that doesn't know it's Bible an doesn't differentiate between Leviticus, "an eye for an eye" and other such non Christian messages and the New Testament message expecting the followers to adhere to "The Bible" and the bits the Church chooses. The Church does not identify itself clearly in its appeal to the Planning Inspectorate Appeal reference APP/N1540/W/21/3278870 in the curious name of Brass Rubbings Brass Rubbings with no statement of their charity number. It appears to be 1107956 there are several charities with the same initials. If so this charity has an income of £19.4 million: £1.88 from donations. If this is CRC the tithes seem to be a policy enthusiastically applied to those who join

P.
2021-12-06 11:36:36

Keep it away from this town. Religion has its place and it’s not here in the 21st century.

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