AN architect has been appointed to mastermind the restoration a historic Grade II listed former church destroyed by a fire in April 2019.

Council bosses hope to have a proposal ready to submit a planning application for the reconstruction of St John’s Church in Victoria Street in Blackburn town centre by the end of the year.

The building, once home to the Bureau Centre for the Arts, was gutted by an accidental fire in April 2019 with flames visible across the town.

On Thursday next week Blackburn with Darwen Council's regeneration boss Cllr Phil Riley will ask the authority's executive board meeting to approve the strategy for the £3.75million restoration.

Councillor Riley said: “This is a landmark moment for our ambitious plans to transform Blackburn town centre.

“Appointing an architect for the refurbishment of St John’s Church paves the way for us to develop our proposals for the first phase of the scheme.

“As the oldest church in the town, it was devastating to see the damage caused after the fire in 2019.”

His report to senior colleagues reveals that Manchester-based OMI Architects have been appointed to oversee the project and that the recruitment of a design team was under way.

It says: "Following the acceptance of the insurance settlement from Zurich, this report seeks approval to set up a capital project for the restoration of the former St John’s Church.

"It is proposed the former St John’s Church will be repurposed and refurbished to create high-quality flexible workspace to meet new agile working demands, which have been accelerated by the pandemic, and will form an early phase of the new Blackburn town centre masterplan.

"It is anticipated a planning application will be submitted late 2022 with contractor procurement commencing early 2023.

"The original church was built in 1787 and continued to be used for active worship until 1975, at which time the ownership of the building and its curtilage was transferred to the council from the Church Commissioners for England.

"St John’s is a grade II listed building within the Richmond Terrace/St John’s Conservation Area in Blackburn.

"The building suffered an accidental fire in April 2019 which caused extensive damage.

"The fire was generally contained to the main hall/chancel, leading to collapse of almost the entire roof, with damage beyond salvage/repair to the roof timbers that did not collapse.

"OMI is known for a broad range of work including residential, museums and galleries, offices, churches, education, hotels, leisure, community and public buildings, many of which are within sensitive historic settings.

"OMI’s work includes complex heritage schemes similar to St John’s which involve some of the region’s most important Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, including All Souls in Bolton, which was named as RICS North West Building of the year in 2015."

Cllr Riley's Conservative group shadow Cllr Paul Marrow declined to comment in detail until he had been fully briefed on the project but said: "We do have questions about this".