Mid Wales

St Winefride's church in Aberystwyth to shut over safety

Parishioners fighting to save a Catholic church have been told it will shut on Sunday after insurers said injury risks were too high.

The Bishop of Menevia, the Right Reverend Thomas Burns, wants to demolish St Winefride's in Aberystwyth.

There are plans to sell the land for housing and build a new place of worship outside the town.

But objectors say moving the church away will make it difficult for many worshippers to attend services.

The new church is earmarked for Penparcau on the outskirts of Aberystwyth, but in the meantime services could be held in a community centre or a local school.

Our Lady of the Angels and St Winefride's was built in 1874 and is said to have a congregation of about 300 for three Sunday services.

The diocese has said the church site in Queen's Road, which includes a dilapidated parish hall and presbytery, will cost it more than £2.6m to renovate although objectors dispute this.

In a strongly worded pastoral message last month Bishop Burns, who is based in Swansea, said the church was not fit for purpose and could be closed on health and safety grounds.

He urged campaigners to "politely back off".

The congregation has now been told that the church will not be insured from 1 November and the final services will be held on Sunday.

Bishop Burns said: "Our insurers have independently conducted a survey of the property quite recently and just before them our architects arranged for a consultant cost surveyor to do a very detailed report on the state of the buildings.

"The insurers concur with the findings of that survey. It should also be noted that that survey [is] in great detail, and it's about 30-odd pages long, [and] costs every item that has to be replaced if the church is to continue."

He added: "Just as I would not drive my car without insurance I cannot keep a church open without insurance because the insurers are recommending that we should close it down, and the presbytery also, in case there is any injury and the risk of injury they maintain is high."

However, objectors said a survey they had carried out on the building had shown it was in "remarkably good condition".

'Bewildered'

Lucy Huws, who has strong family ties to the church, said: "I'm bewildered that a historically important church, central to the town and community of Aberystwyth, is to be closed due to an insurance company not renewing its cover.

"The timing of this announcement has been a surprise, communicated to the parish a day after the bishop saw an independent survey commissioned by parishioners, stating that 'the building appears to be in remarkably good condition from a structural point of view', and that work to bring the church up to fit-for-purpose standards would amount to £625,000 compared to the £2.6m quoted by the diocese."

Bishop Burns has been asked to respond to details in the parishioners' survey.

Mrs Huws added: "As far as many parishioners are concerned the church is safe and poses no threat to safety".

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