A RECENTLY abandoned school building in Pilning will receive a new lease of life as a place of worship for a minority Indian Orthodox community.

The former St Peter's Primary School will be renovated and transformed into a church, complete with a nave and 1.8 metre cross, for the parish of St Mary's Indian Orthodox Christian Church.

Despite opposition from planning chiefs who rejected the plans due to the building's location in the Green Belt, members of South Gloucestershire Council's development west committee unanimously opted to back the growing congregation, which already owns the building.

Officers had deemed that extending the existing school to provide an elongated nave and entrance lobby, would infringe on the "openness of the Green Belt" and encouraged councillors to reject the scheme.

Yet, the church had argued that, as it planned to demolish the school's old flat roof one-storey extension, it would infact improve the openness of the Green Belt and enhance the protected land by ridding the village of an inappopriate building, out of keeping with the area.

Speaking in favour of the project, Cllr Robert Griffin (Con, Pilning and Severn Beach) said the congregation would bring the old school building back to life at the meeting last month.

"I'm personally, with a lot of members of the community, very encouraged to see this building being adapted sensibly and tastefully for another community use.

"When the extension is demolished, there will be a reduction in harm to the Green Belt."

His colleague Cllr Matthew Riddle (Con, Severn) admitted he was astonished a place of worship was not part of the few developments considered acceptable on Green Belt land.

He said: "I am very supportive of this application. I'm of the view that it would not be disproportionate in the Green Belt."

A new façade will be created to the east as part of the plans.

Church trustee Jacob George told the Gazette he was delighted with the move and was looking forward to welcoming new parishioners to Pilning.

"I'm very pleased that the county is looking at the minority community," he said after the meeting. "It is going to be a community place and a legacy the community can carry forward."