CONTROVERSIAL plans to build 41 new homes and a retail space in Grays High Street have been given the green light.

Members of Thurrock Council’s planning committee passed a majority vote on Thursday night, meaning the one and two bedroom flats will now be built next to the 1,000-year-old listed building St Peter and St Pauls Church.

Church goers and other residents packed the public gallery in opposition, applauding speakers against the application and criticising those who spoke in favour.

A retail store, a restaurant, a cafe or a takeaway will be part of the new building, that will look on to the new South Essex College currently under construction. A communal garden will also be installed.

In 2011, permission was granted for a 24-unit homes development on the site with four shops ,although the new development comes as a blow to the church.

Cllr Phil Anderson, leader of the Conservatives, said he was concerned the size and design of the building would be harmful to the church.

He said: “I have my concerns. Having a parking free development such as this is a major issue. It is not practical.

“Seeing the new college built opposite, the importance of the site itself has gone up, but the quality of the design has gone down. I want to see regeneration, but not at a price.”

Paul Henry, the agent of developer Carlton Group of Companies, said the development would respect the listed church.

He added: “I want to work with the church and have the support of neighbouring developments.

“We need to regenerate the area and this is a great opportunity to do so.”

An alternative motion by Cllr Anderson was outvoted.

The decision comes despite an application for 43 homes being rejected in 2006 for having “excessive bulk, massing, overlooking, inadequate parking, impact on the listed building and preserved tree”.

The site, which used to be a Dominoes gym and snooker site, is falling into disrepair and has been the victim of fire and graffiti attacks over the last few years.

After the decision had been made, church vicar Rev Darren Barlow said: “It was not the outcome we wanted but I am not that surprised.

“I never had a consultation with the planner over this particular application and that is disappointing.

“The volume of support against the application shows what the larger community thinks.”