A CONTROVERSIAL bell-tower will be built at a Worcester school as part of a new arts development.

Christopher Whitehead College in St John’s applied to build a new state-of-the-art performing arts centre, with dance studios and a theatre. But to the dismay of many neighbours, it included a 24 metre bell-tower, with 12 bells, which could be used to teach pupils bell-ringing, and also be used by other ringers.

Members of Worcester City Council’s planning committee were told by a neighbour of the school, Rosie Chacksfield that residents didn’t object to the performing arts centre just the bell tower. She said: “The right to peaceful enjoyment of our homes will be destroyed for us all. The noise will destroy the lives of everyone in this peaceful residential area.

“We are dependent on you to protect us all.”

The school’s head teacher Neil Morris said: “We desperately need this performing arts facilities. Our motto is ‘In pursuit of excellence’. We want the best facilities and the best opportunities for our students. We are teaching dance and drama in the cafeteria, we can’t offer A-level music at the moment, and the school keeps growing.”

The committee felt conditions limiting use of the bells, unmuffled, to 12 periods of one hour per year would keep disruption to a minimum. The bells may not be rung without fully testing the noise mitigation measures of muffling them and keeping louvres on the tower shut were working.

Councillor Mike Johnson said: “I wasn’t convinced about this until the site visit. I think the developers and our planning department have worked to make this an acceptable scheme.”

Councillor Pat Agar said: “Worcester is a city of towers and bells. This is a very exciting development, though if I was a resident I’d definitely want those conditions in place.”

Councillor Bill Amos said: “In an old established area this ultra-modern tower is a step too far. I think it’s totally inappropriate.”

Earlier the councillors had visited a pub to hear a 12-bell peal played by the landlord, who opposed to the scheme.

Residents gathered to oppose the application at The Brunswick Arms, opposite the school, playing the bells to councillors to show the effect the tower might have on them, claiming that the reported 112 decibel sound will disrupt their lives significantly.

Planners heard a 12-bell sound-track recorded in 2006 at the 12-bell striking contest held at Worcester Cathedral.

Chris Hankins, landlord of the pub said: "Many people have a romantic wedding bell, Sunday morning opinion of church bell ringing. Fine.

"This proposal is a very different animal, 12-bell peals are non-musical mathematical progressions- relentless and monotonous to the ordinary man.

"That is why councillors need to hear 12-bell change ringing in order to make an informed decision.

"Most objectors believe that the cathedral bell ringers have placed undue influence on the school insisting that if a 12-bell tower is not built there will be no funding for the performance arts centre.

"Be that as it may, the problem is that 'undue influence' is not a planning concern.

"Sound pollution on the other hand is.

"Church bells are a special case. They are designed to catch people's attention above other noises and are raised high in a tower so they can be heard far and wide.

"The sound inside the bell tower starts off at 112 decibels- enough to give permanent hearing damage within minutes. Sound gradually diminishes with distance."

See the video of the peal on worcesternews.co.uk