Councillors have agreed to increase the amount they are giving to a church fundraising campaign as it is 'a historic building of significance to this town.'

Lyme Regis town councillors originally committed £25,000 to St Michael’s Parish Church Tower, which is in need of repair, at a recent strategy and finance committee meeting, but at last week’s town council meeting, they increased their support to £40,000.

At the strategy and finance meeting, Cllr Michaela Ellis urged councillors to give more than £25,000.

She said: "What we’ve got to remember is that church has been the church the mayor has used for civic services and other things. It is the town’s church for civic engagements, and we have never, ever given any money to that church structure.

“I really think we should be supporting it, but I believe it should be more than £25,000.

"I think a lot of the residents will expect it to be there for christenings, weddings and funerals and we are doing it for the residents."

Cllr Stan Williams pointed out that other churches in the town were also used for civic engagements.

Tim Bacon, a member of the Lyme Regis Parochial Church Council (PCC), attended the town council meeting last week to ask councillors if they could increase their contribution. Speaking on behalf of St Michael’s Parish Church, he said: “The only Grade I listed building in Lyme Regis is the Church of St Michael the Archangel. This is the Civic Church and has been central to the life of the town for nearly 1,000 years.

“The church architect carries out a detailed inspection of the church every five years and makes recommendations for repairs. He highlighted the need for urgent replacement of the rendering on the tower. The tower is the oldest part of the church.

“Ingress of water has damaged the stonework and internal timbers and recent falls of plaster in the Baptistry are further evidence of ongoing deterioration. An urgent capital repair project such as this is quite beyond our resources without financial support from other sources.

“All permissions and approvals have been obtained and the total project cost is estimated at £150,000. Funds raised so far, including grants, total £80,000, including a recent £4,000 donation.

“We were delighted and grateful that the strategy committee has recommended that a grant of £25,000 be made. This support from the town would bring the total raised to date to £105,000. However, we would still not be able to proceed with the work because the faulty from the Diocese requires us to have raised 80 per cent of monies needed before work may commence. We are still £15,000 short.”

Mr Bacon said that contractors could start in September as some of the works had to be done when there was no risk of frost and if work is to start this year, September is the latest it can begin.

“If Lyme Regis Town Council is willing to make a £40,000 grant, then by Christmas the tower will again be protected from the elements an, all being well, the church clock will be telling the right time and chiming the quarters and hours once again.”

Town clerk John Wright reminded members of the possible risk they were taking in giving money to the church, in which a legislation dating back more than 100 years states that the town council couldn’t make these sorts of grants to the Church of England, however, this had never been tested in court.

Cllr Jeff Scowen and Michaela Ellis gave their support for the new grant amount.

Cllr Ellis said: "We’ve heard how critical it is to have this money and I did say that £25,000 I didn’t think would be enough to get them going.

“Even if we look at it as it could have been part of next year’s grant money that they have come early. I would like to propose we give them the £40,000.”

Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, mayor of Lyme Regis, added: “It is possible that you can regard this £15,000 as a grant commitment early, but that must not signal that other groups and societies can come forward and do the same thing.

“I don’t believe this is simply a matter of the church, this is about what this building represents, it’s a historic building of significance to this town and I think we need to ask ourselves as the council, does this extra £15,000 push us to a decision we accept or decline and if we decline it will be on our watch that we were the council that didn’t support a building of this important stature within the town.”

Cllr Ellis added: “I would like to say that we are not giving this money to the Church of England, we are giving it to the church of Lyme Regis, the only Grade I-listed building in the town.”

Councillors unanimously agreed to give the £40,000 grant.