Ashford church's plan to become an arts venue approved

image captionUp to 350 people will be able to attend cultural events at St Mary's

Plans to transform a Victorian church into an arts venue have been approved.

The proposed alterations to St Mary's parish church in Ashford were agreed by the Church of England's planning body.

The church will create a performance space to host music and drama while still serving its congregation as a place of worship.

The Victorian Society has criticised the project, saying it would cause irreversible damage to the fabric of the Grade-I listed building.

The plans propose the removal of nearly all the pews, moving and altering the pulpit and inserting a new floor.

The Bishop of Dover, the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, said the church plans to host a diverse programme of music and drama.

He said: "No church is simply a church building. It is a community space as well as a place of worship."

The Victorian Society has said St Mary the Virgin was a medieval church which was extended in 1837 and 1860, and its historic importance would "be lost to future generations if these plans are given the go-ahead".

The £1.7m project is funded by the regeneration body Ashford's Future, alongside Ashford Borough Council and the Church of England.

Building work is due to start next month.

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