CONTROVERSIAL plans that would see graves disturbed to make way for an extension to a historic village church have been approved despite community concerns.

Councillors heard that proposals for a library and function room next to the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Dalston were vital to its future.

A survey found that the proposal would require the removal of headstones, and possibly bodies too, with 17 graves dating from between 1800 to 1914 potentially affected.

Dalston Parish Council unanimously agreed that the development should be refused, partly because the extension would be built on top of existing graves.

But Carlisle City Council’s planning panel on Friday went with the advice of their own officers and approved

the scheme lodged by the village’s Parochial Church Council.

A previous application outlined plans for a larger extension to the north of the church, including a separate library and function room.

But two mature trees would have to be felled to make way for it and the plans were scaled back to address concerns.

Speaking for the applicants, ward Councillor Trevor Allison told the panel they had “gone to considerable lengths and cost” to make the extension fit in with the architecture of the historic church and to address community concerns.

He said: “Their aim is to ensure that St Michael’s remains a working church in the centre of Dalston and does not suffer the fate of many churches.

“You don’t have to go far to see examples here in Carlisle. This will secure the future of the church by establishing a wider role for it in the community to complement the traditional church services.

“But we must not lose sight of the main purpose of the extension – it is to provide much-needed facilities for the church itself.”

The meeting heard that Parochial Church Council had previously offered to house the library service when the last remaining library vehicle was taken off the road.

However, this has proved to be “far from ideal” because the library had to be moved for weddings and funerals.

Councillor John Collier said he was “quite happy with the proposal” apart from the disturbance of the graves.

The meeting heard that the removal of the graves was dealt with through a separate process and the church would first have to be given ecclesiastical consent.

Planning officer Suzanne Osborne said the pitched roof of the extension would echo the design of the historic church.

She added that it would not affect views of the important rose window and nor would it stop light streaming through the stained glass.

The work would see the conversion of the vestry to form a new accessible toilet, office and kitchen.

Meanwhile, the disabled WC would be transformed into a vestry and accessible toilet.