A LANDOWNER has agreed "unconditionally" to sell her rundown car breakers' yard to Jehovah's Witnesses for their new UK headquarters, it emerged this week.
The International Bible Students Association (IBSA) paid a deposit, agreed a final price and swapped contracts with Charmaine Small this month for Temple Farm in Ship Road, West Hanningfield.
Ms Small has promised the IBSA – the charity used by the religious sect to distribute its literature – that dozens of car dealers will vacate the 50-acre farm over "the next few months".
Speaking to the Chronicle, Stephen Morris, of the IBSA branch relocation department, said: "This is a very important stepping stone to one day moving into Temple Farm."
In an announcement to the Chronicle the IBSA also said it expects to submit a detailed planning application, crucial to whether it can build or not, to Chelmsford City Council by Monday, December 1.
It proposes building offices, a printing room running off up to 184,000 Christian magazines an hour, a laundry data centre, audio-visual studio, car wash, accommodation for 800 Jehovah's Witnesses, playing fields and plush green floral gardens.
"We feel very confident this move will happen," added Mr Morris.
The IBSA agreed provisional terms with Ms Small to buy the land on New Year's Eve 2013 after looking at 308 other sites across the UK.
Its current location in Mill Hill, London, where it has spent £4.5 million with suppliers within a 25-mile radius in 2011, is spread over a five-mile radius and is expensive to run.
On Valentine's Day this year the IBSA submitted an application for outline planning permission to the council which was later agreed.
By the summer the IBSA had already held three public consultations, started weeding and clearing debris, and carried out an ecological survey assessing car battery and car acid contamination.
"There is quite a bit of contamination on site and there is a lot of site remediation work to do," said Mr Morris.
"But a lot of that contaminated soil can be buried on site rather than transported to specialist sites elsewhere."
The IBSA has also purchased the redundant Woodstock Motel in Stock Road for £515,000, and agreed the sale of the nearby Akehurst Tyres business in Bakers Lane, as project bases for contractors.
In an initial e-mail to the Chronicle, Mr Morris writes: "We are pleased to advise that we are now committed to the Temple Farm site and have exchanged unconditional contracts with the proprietors.
"Having worked with Chelmsford City Council officers and the site owners, we have established that the task of site regeneration is achievable utilising best environmental practice to restore this Green Belt location. "
City council cabinet member for planning & economic development Neil Gulliver said: "The IBSA's current site in north London is pristine and beautifully planted with flowers.
"There couldn't be a bigger difference between what is in Temple Farm at the moment and what they will bring in."
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