Plans to partially demolish Merton Hall as a Pentecostal church moves in its place have been given the green light by councillors.

Merton Council's planning applications committee approved the controversial scheme at a meeting on Thursday night (September 21).

The building in Kingston Road will be partly demolished and refurbished to become home to Elim Pentecostal Church.

As part of a freehold swap agreement, Elim Church’s warehouse in High Path would then be transformed into a new secondary school.

But the plans have proved controversial, with more than 2,500 people signing a petition against them and more than 300 people officially objected to the application.

Among objectors was the Merton Historical Society.

Writing to council in opposition to the plans, the society said: "The proposed extension - despite the façade now being kept intact - would diminish its heritage and aesthetic value, leaving it and John Innes's Merton Park legacy vulnerable to unsuitable development and loss of character in the future.

"Although slightly outside the Society's normal remit, it is also worth saying that John Innes had local people in mind, whereas the proposed use by a Pentecostal church probably has no roots

in the community, such churches being occupied by eclectic congregations gathered from a wide area."

The hall was built more than 100 years ago and handed over by philanthropist John Innes as a gift to the community.

As well as the demolition of the main hall will be the refurbishment of the retained two storey section and the erection of a new worship hall, foyer and meeting/group rooms.

A “freehold swap” has been agreed to by council because it wants the church’s current site for a new secondary school.

Deputy leader of Merton Council, Councillor Mark Allison said: “It was great to hear there were cheers in the council chamber when planning permission was approved for works to start on Merton Hall.

"The planning committee agreed with the independent panel of architects that our proposal was an impressive design to enhance the building.

"Elim Church provides our vital foodbank service and will be great hosts, making the hall available for residents too.”

As part of the agreement between council and Elim Church, residents will still be able to hire Merton Hall as a community space after Elim Church move in.