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Willesden Baptist Church member suspended over parish development plans

PUBLISHED: 11:07 01 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:14 01 May 2019

Jean Billong outside Willesden Baptist Church where clergy have removed a basement from the development plan.  Picture: Nathalie Raffray

Jean Billong outside Willesden Baptist Church where clergy have removed a basement from the development plan. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

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A Neasden man has been suspended from a Baptist church in Willesden where he volunteers in a row over development plans.

Original basement plans drawn up by Willesden Baptist Church now removed.  Picture: Nathalie RaffrayOriginal basement plans drawn up by Willesden Baptist Church now removed. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

Jean Billong wants The Willesden Baptist Church in the High Road to honour its previous planning applications for flats and a large basement for all its community services.

But following three applications highlighting the need for community space, church chiefs have removed the basement from the latest version and instead applied for nine flats.

Late last year Mr Billong launched two petitions “against the removal of the basement for the homeless and the needy” gaining more than 130 signatures.

On March 30, the 40-year-old, who ran the church's football academy for youngsters, received his suspension letter telling him his actions were “beyond belief” and “not Christ-like”.

Willesden Baptist Church.  Picture: Nathalie RaffrayWillesden Baptist Church. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

He said: “This is bullying and intimidation. We can't give our view on something, we can't ask questions, we don't have the right to receive all the information we need as members to vote and take decisions. We just need to rely on the word of the leadership, the pastor and as far as I see, it's not very good for us.”

The initial plans for the basement included improved services for the homeless community it has supported for the last 30 years. Drawings show four showers, a meeting room, office space, a clothes bank.

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“It's a huge space. There are not many services for homeless people in this area. They live in desperation. If you have something to ground them to better their lives, you can't remove it.”

Brent's planning committee refused the first application for eight flats and a basement below” due to undersized flats, poor outlook and little access to natural light.

The second application for seven flats and a basement for community facilities was approved in 2017. The pastor said it was for the “increasing demands of our growing congregation” in council papers.

To the charity commission the church the church said a basement was “how the church can prepare herself to provide help, assistance and support, to the community.”

But it then brought on board developers Access Building Contractors, and architects Ibottson, which said the church can “manage the loss of the basement by a flexible use of the ground floor.”

A new application will now be heard by Brent planning committee in June, for nine flats and no basement.

“I'm very shocked; I'm trying to get back what was granted for us and they are not listening,” Mr Billong added.

Willesden Baptist Church has been contacted.

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