PLANS to knock down a historic north Essex church have been halted by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

The Essex MP has ordered an informal inquiry into Church of England plans to demolish St Peter’s Church, in Birch.

The move follows an 18-month campaign by residents and groups, backed by English Heritage and the Victorian Society, to save the long-derelict 19th century church.

Campaigners were boosted last year when developer Gary Cottee came forward with plans to buy the church and convert it into a large home.

David Balcombe, director of the Colchester and north east Essex Building Preservation Trust, which collected a 1,000- name petition calling for St Peter’s to be saved, said everyone was “delighted” with the announcement.

He said: “It’s all to play for now.

We will put our case forward as convincingly as we can and hope common sense prevails.”

See Wednesday's Gazette for more.