A NINE-MONTH battle to save a church from demolition has failed – unless campaigners can convince Eric Pickles to step in.

The Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust has been trying to come up with ways to protect St Peter’s Church spire, in Birch, since the Church Commissioners and Chelmsford Diocese threatened to knock it down.

Last October, developer Gary Cottee said he would be willing to buy and restore the Grade II listed building and turn it into a home.

However, the Church Commissioners and Diocese says Mr Cottee’s proposal is “not financially viable or sustainable”

and will press ahead with demolition.

The trust described the decision as “wanton vandalism”.

David Balcombe, trust director, said: “This is a bitter disappointment for the trust, which has worked hard over the past nine months to find solutions to securing the preservation of the Grade II listed building.

“We remain convinced the sale of the site to Mr and Mrs Cottee would be the best outcome for the heritage of Birch and the preservation of the conservation area and the landscape.

“Demolition is an entirely negative response to the problem and one which cannot be undone. The village will be the poorer for its loss.

Objections have also been made by a number of national amenity societies.

Mr Balcombe said it was understood if those remained, the diocese is obliged to refer the matter to Eric Pickles, Communities and Local Government Secretary.

He then would decide whether or not to hold an informal planning inquiry.

Mr Balcombe added: “We hope an inquiry takes place as we are sure an independent inspector will find in our favour. It is incredulous a few local people are actively campaigning to demolish a part of our heritage.

“I do not doubt the self belief of these people, but the mission of our trust is to help to preserve the best of our built environment. We have lost so much in the past out of ignorance, greed or in the name of progress. But here, we have a clear case of wanton vandalism. They should not be allowed to get away with it.”

A decision on whether there will be an inquiry could be decided within two months. Attempts to restore the church have failed since it was declared redundant in 1990.

A spokesman for Chelmsford Diocese said: “The resident’s proposals were not financially viable or sustainable.

“They would have led to a further lengthy period of uncertainty about the future of the church, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone.”