Love thy neighbour? Row at ‘noisy church’ goes on

Residents pictured protesting about noise pollution and parking issues outside Billinge Family Church
Residents pictured protesting about noise pollution and parking issues outside Billinge Family Church

An attempt by council chiefs to broker a peace deal between church leaders and disgruntled residents has failed to resolve the bitter dispute.

Billinge Family Church and many of its neighbours are locked in an increasingly rancourous conflict over parking and allegations of excessive noise during services.

The church has responded to every genuine concern in a positive way but the mediation ceased because the church found that the demands of those involved in mediation were unreasonable and there was no reciprocal effort from them.

Executive pastor Mike Kerry

The row reached fever pitch last year, prompting the council’s top officer, chief executive Donna Hall, to personally intervene.

However, it has emerged her attempts to bring the two sides together have come to an abrupt end, with the church’s leadership insisting the residents group were “impossible to deal with”.

A number of residents have staged weekly protests outside Billinge Family Church on Crank Road for the past two years complaining about noise and light pollution, and parking problems.

The protestors have made several complaints to Wigan Council about noise, although each investigation found no evidence of excessive noise. The church says its extension was intended to eradicate the problem of parishioners parking on Crank Road.

An independent Christian church, it regularly stages concerts but executive pastor Mike Kerry said the church had invested heavily in sound-proofing the building.

Mr Kerry said the church pulled out of mediation after the local protest group - headed by 71-year-old retired electrician Michael Comerford - were unsatisfied by steps taken to meet their concerns.

He said: “The church has responded to every genuine concern in a positive way but the mediation ceased because the church found that the demands of those involved in mediation were unreasonable and there was no reciprocal effort from them.

“Following our withdrawal from mediation last summer the church sent a letter to every house which abuts the church property and invited all those neighbours to contact us if they had any concerns.

“There has been no contact from our neighbours - Mr Comerford’s home does not abut our property and he is unaffected by the presence of the church.

“Sadly Mr Comerford seems intent on complaining about Billinge Family Church even though last year he was sent a letter before action by our solicitors because of his continuing harassment. It is clear that Michael Comerford does not represent the wider community.”

However, Mr Comerford, of Coppice Road, Billinge, dismissed the church’s efforts as “token gestures” and says many residents remain unhappy.

“Residents are not fooled,” he said. “No objective mediation agreement has been produced. And without this mediation is meaningless, a mere charade.

“The local community finds it hard to understand why the church should impact on them so negatively.

“Residents do not consider that the church has fulfilled its obligations, given some 250 letters of objections written in respect of your presence and activities, delivered to Wigan Council.”

Meanwhile, council officials say their offer of help remains open to both sides.

Ms Hall said: “A number of sessions were held and some good progress was made to develop a good working relationship for the future. Relationships between the two groups remain difficult, however Billinge Family Church have opened their doors to conversations with residents on any issues that concern them.

“The offer of support in this matter is still available if both parties wish to proceed.”