A CHURCH has provoked anger after starting to knock down a locally-listed group of almshouses dating back to Victorian times.

Contractors working for the Emmanuel Pentecostal Church began last week to demolish a range of Lee High Road almshouses built in 1875 by the Merchant Taylors’ Company for Christopher Boone’s charity.

Back in 2012, Lewisham Council agreed to a request by the Lee Manor Society to locally list the buildings due to their historic and architectural value. But, crucially, a local listing does not prevent demolition taking place.

Chairman of the Lee Manor Society Charles Batchelor said: "This is an act of vandalism by the church authorities who are seeking to carry out a hugely commercial development on an historic site. Lewisham Council must take immediate action to prevent the loss of yet another part of the borough’s architectural heritage."

The council turned down a request to apply an 'article 4' declaration, which would prevent any changes until there is local authority approval.

Mr Batchelor said: "The council says that the existing buildings, the almshouses, will be a material consideration in considering a future planning application. But if the almshouses have been demolished how can they be taken into consideration? This is a nonsense."

A previous plan by the church to turn the site- called The Manse - into a four-storey complex with community facilities, a creche, restaurant and offices was withdrawn in 2012.

A spokesman for Lewisham Council said: “"The council received notification of the proposed demolition of 372, 378 and 380 Lee High Road in January.

“The legislation allows the council 28 days to determine if the method of demolition requires prior approval, which has been the case with this proposal.

“The  prior approval process provides a greater timescale in which the council can examine the details of the demolition proposal, including the restoration of the site following the proposed demolition.

“Planning officers have made it clear to the applicants that works should not be carried out until that process has taken place."

The church was unavailable for comment.