Villagers in Buckinghamshire said their 'lives have been ruined' by a rector and his wife who branded them 'evildoers' for opposing plans for a huge new worship centre.

Residents of Chesham Bois have spent four years trying to prevent local rector Laurie Clow, based at St Leonard's Church, from building a £6 million 'Multifunctional Parish Centre' with a car park for 114 vehicles and a capacity for around 400 visitors, which they fear would ruin the "tranquillity" of their community.

The proposal - which included plans for a cafe, day nursery building and detached garage - was designed to replace an existing church hall put up in 1937.

However, locals questioned the need for such a building, with a capacity that doesn't reflect the church's "dwindling" congregation of around 140.

They expressed fears that the site - which might be open until 10pm daily - could instead become a "commercial" conference centre for those outside the community, and concerns were also raised about its location within the Chesham Bois Conservation Area, which is home to several different species of wildlife.

A planning application for the multi-million-pound development, set out in 2020, was rejected by Buckinghamshire Council in January 2021, declined again on appeal in April 2022, and a third attempt to pass the plans with some changes was also dismissed on January 11 this year.

However, residents fear that the church will once again try to get its plans accepted on appeal.

Laurie's wife Wendy Clow told the congregation at St Leonard's Church to "go on an offensive" against those who "oppose us" in a sermon last year, urging churchgoers to "watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh".

Bucks Free Press:

Cards given out over Christmas at the church also bore the words: "Bells being rung can have two meanings during a time of war... and make no mistake we are at war."

Resident Colin Whipp, who helped to set up the 'Protect Chesham Bois Common' action group, said locals were deeply worried about the incendiary language, adding: "People in the area, who are Church of England have had to leave the (local) church because they've been so upset by rector Clow's antics."

Meanwhile, Roger Booth, who has lived with his wife Christine for 40 years in a listed five-bed home which backs onto the proposed development site, claimed their lives have been 'ruined' by the dispute and is worried that the value of their property would plunge if the plans were given consent - having already spent "thousands of pounds" trying to stop them.

The retired sales director said: “We are an elderly couple. I’m 81 and my wife is 78, and it's ruined our life for the last four years. It’s unbelievable.

"Who would buy a beautiful house with a car park 30m (100ft) from the grounds with a car park for 114 cars?"

Bucks Free Press:

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Laurie Clow first took up the position of rector at St Leonard's in 2015, and villagers in Chesham Bois initially welcomed him into the area, with relations only souring when St Leonard's Parochial Church Council set out plans for the glass-fronted 'worship centre' four years ago.

A spokesperson from the Parochial Church Council said they were "disappointed" at the council's most recent verdict, adding that they were "taking time to consider the comments and our next steps".

“This application was made to replace buildings which are near the end of their lifespan and had at its heart our intention to provide the community with a multi-functional parish centre to be used by all, especially the pre-school.

"It would cost almost as much to refurbish what exists on the site as to start again and provide something fit for purpose. Hence the plans to redevelop."

Bucks Free Press:

At the time of the sermon, which was delivered in August last year, the council "apologised unreservedly for the offence caused to members of our community" and the spokesperson offered another apology concerning the wording of the cards, which were handed out to parishioners over Christmas.

They said: “This card sets out our vision for the year, which is reflected in the spiritual language used. Our congregation look on these words as spiritual encouragement for the year ahead.

"They are rooted in the ‘spiritual realm’ and the Bible references to the battle between good and evil.

“The wording is not targeted at any section of our community nor in response to anything specific.

“We apologise if this has caused any distress in the community as this was never our intention. Our only desire was to share the news of the good God has planned for all of us.”