A controversial upgrade for an historic church has been given the go-ahead - despite fears by planners that it would damage the Grade II* listed building.

Planners at Huntingdonshire District Council felt the work, which included the provision of toilet, kitchen and disabled facilities, would cause "unacceptable harm" to St Nicholas Church in Hail Weston which dates back to the 13th century.

But the council's development management committee approved the work, despite the planners' views.

They said the work would "significantly improve" facilities at the church and would secure the building's optimum use, which outweighed any harm to the structure.

The scheme also involved transferring the southern porch to the northern side of the church and replacing it with a larger extension for the new facilities, together with closing an existing doorway into the tower.

Members of the committee have the head of development power to issue the planning permission subject to satisfactory comments from the Wildlife trust and the imposition of necessary planning conditions.

A condition to protect trees will be included.

The scheme, by the parochial church council, had been approved by Hail Weston Parish Council and received 118 letters of support.

Historic England had "concerns" about the project and the district council's conservation team recommended refusal on the grounds that the level of harm to the building was not outweighed by the public benefit.

The church has an Ecclesiastical Exemption under planning regulations which meant that internal and external alterations were not subject to the usual listed building consent required by a building of its age.

It also meant that the council could only consider planning permission for alterations to the outside of the building.

Planners said the south porch was the most prominent feature on that side of the church and its replacement was larger, extending considerably further into the churchyard.

They said relocation of the porch would change the character of the northern side of the "very fine" church, which was built as a chapelry, and would change the simple character of the building. It would also harm the view of the "unique" tower.

The scheme also involves a number of internal changes.