Members of a Whitehaven church fear the town’s heritage could be degraded by the impact a planned redevelopment on their building.

A total of 137 letters have been sent to Copeland council with concerns about the plan and its impact on the chapel.

And the clergy have warned that parishioners cannot be expected to fund improvements to changes that are outside their control.

The Roman Catholic chapel of St Gregory and St Patrick on Quay Street abuts the Argos and Rack Shack buildings, EROS Properties want to demolish them and replace them with office and retail space it says could create up to 400 jobs.

The clergy, trustees and congregation of the chapel, and its sister church St Begh’s, are worried about the impact of the proposals on the building, and on the town because it is in the conservation area.

Father Richard Simons said they were concerned the chapel could be left with a blank wall where the buildings stood, which would be out of keeping with the 1880s’ building’s original appearance.

He would like to see a condition attached to any planning consent, requiring the developer to install windows in the exposed wall.

He said: “The primary fear is for the structure of the chapel. The secondary fear is the look of any window scheme. It’s a beautiful gem of a building. If development was sympathetic it could enhance the conservation area. We feel it’s not been thought out properly.”

The chapel is used for daily services, church events and Whitehaven Male Voice Choir rehearsals.

Fr Richard said: “It’s only a small chapel but it gets a lot of footfall for its size. It’s a unique survivor in the conservation area.

It’s the only building there now to testify to Whitehaven’s industrial past.”

Fr Richard said the proposed development would increase maintenance costs by making the chapel more exposed. It would be unfair, he said, to make parishioners pay to enhance a building it was not behind changing.

Fr Richard said: “We have so many financial commitments. We just don’t know what kind of expenditure we have got over the years.”

Built as a school and place of worship for the industrialised town centre, the chapel initially had buildings to its side and back. The school moved to Esk Avenue in 1960, and in the 1980s the side and rear blocks were knocked down and the current buildings built around it.

Fr Richard said he was heartened by the number of people who had written to Copeland council.

He said: “We have had a very big response from our parishioners and from townspeople. We’re really grateful. Their response has been magnificent. Yes it’s for the church but it’s also for the people of Whitehaven. Who wants to look at a blank wall?”

Fr Richard and his colleague Fr Cenydd Marrison have written to the council on behalf of the church and its trustees.

A spokesman for EROS Properties said: “This is an outline planning application. The purpose is just to establish the principle of development at this stage.

“We appreciate that there is a party wall at the moment and the details of that will be dealt with at the reserved matters stage.”