Churches could undermine Barking industries, say firms

Churches planning to take over empty business park units are threatening to undermine the viability of firms struggling in the downturn, a leading forum has warned.

Creekmouth Forum spoke out as councillors prepared to look at plans to open two new churches on an industrial site in Thames Road, Barking. One church is expected to draw more than 800 worshippers at peak time.

The forum of 250 Barking companies believes the places of worship could destroy the identity of Thames Road, cause too much traffic and fear they may have difficulties complying with health and safety regulations.

Chairman Steve Smith, 41, said: “It’s a very, very difficult time. It will create a vacuum.

“It will actually be draining the area of local businesses when the economy starts coming back into play.”

Council planners recommended both plans be turned down on the grounds they could undermine business but at a meeting on Monday councillors voted to give the green light to the plans.

One of the churches, represented by Benkert Properties Ltd, has lodged an appeal to the government after Barking and Dagenham Council failed to make a decision on its plans within the two-month legal deadline.

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Barking and Dagenham Faith Forum said the increase in church applications was brought upon by changing demographics.

Faith forum chairman Paula Watson said: “There has been an increase in places of worship. It must be the demand.

“We want to make sure local people and faith groups are able to interact peacefully. Cohesion is everything.”

Separately, Pastor Stephen Ologun has made an application to take over empty industrial premises to open a Redeemed Christian Church of God in Selinas Lane, Dagenham.

He said: “Our presence does not in any way jeopardise the progress of the business community.

“The presence of a church will only bring a blessing.”