Proposals by a housing association to tear down a historic Methodist chapel to replace it with flats have been met with fury.

In March last year, Karbon Homes unveiled plans to build affordable homes at Prudhoe’s Ebenezer Methodist Chapel in West Wylam. The church was built in 1875, but closed in 2015 due to dwindling congregation numbers.

Initially, the plan was to extend the church and convert it into four two-bed flats and one one-bedroom flat while retaining the structure and external façade of the chapel to protect its heritage. However, it is now understood that the building is not structurally safe, and the cost of making it so would make the project unviable.

The news was revealed in a short post in the Prudhoe Community Partnership’s newsletter, the Partnership Echo. It read: “This is a very-long running project, which has had many delays because of Covid and the changing of personnel at Karbon Homes.

“There are now new plans being drawn up by Karbon for eight flats and this will be a new build, as the current structure is now unsafe. Key stones and historical interest items will be retained. New plans will hopefully come out for public consultation by early autumn.”

The news has been met with stiff resistance from across the community. Prudhoe town councillor Jane Johnson said: “As a town councillor and long term resident of West Wylam, I am very disappointed that I and residents heard of this proposal in such a short statement.”

Coun Gordon Stewart, who represents the area on Northumberland County Council, added: “I  have been inundated by many very sad, angry residents at receiving the briefest of information about the proposal for the demolition of a much loved iconic building in the heart of our proud community.

“I have demanded a meeting as a matter of great urgency to ensure the public are kept well informed and the proposals are open to public scrutiny.”

Former town councillor and manager of the nearby Miner’s Lamp café and community hub Russ Greig launched a failed attempt to purchase the building for the use of the community. At the time, he said the chapel had been at the “heart” of the West Wylam community and said residents did not want the Ebenezer to be sold simply for it to be demolished.

Speaking on the latest development, he added: “I am saddened to hear that the Ebenezer Chapel, which is much loved and holds many fond memories for the community of West Wylam and many families, is to be demolished.

“Despite all indications of it being given a new life as apartments in the original planning application, to hear the news published by Prudhoe Community Partnership in their newsletter with just a few lines is a disappointing way to engage with the community. Whilst the building has structural problems, what price do we put on saving our local heritage if the willingness is there?”

The issue has even attracted an intervention by Hexham MP Guy Opperman. He said: “These plans cannot be rushed through and it is important that local people are consulted fully before any work is considered further.

“Ebenezer Chapel is such an important part of West Wylam’s heritage and has acted as the heart of the local community for centuries. I would urge Prudhoe Community Partnership and Karbon Homes to work closely with local residents.

“The final proposal must maintain the historic features of the Chapel that local people love and cherish dearly.”

Responding to the concerns, Lea Smith, Head of Land and Partnerships at Karbon Homes, said: “We understand that the Ebenezer Chapel building is important to the West Wylam community. We have explored different options for retaining the building but unfortunately, due to its poor condition having stood empty for a number of years, the investment needed to preserve its structure and external façade makes it impracticable.

 “We’re working with the Prudhoe Community Partnership to explore alternative design options for the site, which will enable us to continue working together to bring much-needed affordable and accessible housing to the area. Our intention will be to retain and reuse as much sandstone as possible from the existing building, dependent on its condition, and to mirror the existing brick banding detailing in the new design, as a tribute to the site’s past.

“We will bring our plans to a community consultation, to gather the views and feedback of local residents. We want to ensure the future of this site brings long-lasting benefits to the local community and will use the feedback we collect to help shape our plans for the site.”