Hundreds of Barking churchgoers protest against council rent hike
PUBLISHED: 16:20 01 December 2016 | UPDATED: 16:20 01 December 2016
Hundreds of protesters rallied against a rent hike they say could force them out of their place of worship.
Nearly 400 Victorious Pentecostal Assembly (VPA) churchgoers braved freezing temperatures to stand and sing outside Barking Town Hall last night as they submitted a petition of 2,500 signatures to the council.
Leaders at the church in Thames Road have refused to pay the increased £77,300 annual rent enforced two years ago following an independent review.
“We believe that the council in some of its policy making and implementation may be deemed anti-church,” claims adminstration director Johnson Abegunde in the petition.
Speaking at the protest in Clockhouse Avenue, VPA churchwarden Oris Ryan said: “It’s a fantastic church which brings a lot of people from Barking and Dagenham and all over the world.
“But we just can’t afford the rent, this will force us off the land.”
A council spokesman said the building underwent a rent review in March 2009 when VPA was paying £6,250 a year in rent. Following a dispute, an external independent arbitrator was appointed who imposed the current annual rent.
Worshippers were also protesting against a new recycling plant next to their children’s ministry building, also in Thames Road, which they say constitutes a health and safety hazard that “poses risk to all users of the premises”.
“It very seriously impinges on our right to worship without fear for our health and safety and convenience,” the petition claims.
A council spokesman admitted that “planning conditions in relation to dust” were not being followed at the address, and the recycling plant in question has been issued with a breach of condition notice to address this.
Mr Ryan believes the church is being priced out because of plans to build houses in the area.
“We would be happy to be offered a different location if they are regenerating the area, but we need to hold further talks with the council,” he added.
A council spokesman responded: “They [VPA] received the same information as every other occupier/business within the Housing Zone area explaining the council would be happy for it to be distributed to their congregation so they are fully aware of the proposals.
“The presentation makes clear that no formal compulsory purchase processes have been commenced and that the council is just at the start of the process.”
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