Controversial plans for a major facelift of the oldest building in Watford have won the blessing of the Church of England despite opposition from conservation groups and Watford Borough Council.

Planned renovations to the Grade I listed St Mary’s Church, in Church Street - which dates back to the 13th Century – include the removal of ornate oak pews, the concealment of historic floor tiles, and the installation of glass screens and doors.

The removal of the pews - designed by celebrated architect Sir George Gilbert Scott whose other works include St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial in Kensington - proved to be a particularly contentious issue.

A rare example of “box pews”, they were described by one churchgoer as “a very valuable piece of Watford’s disappearing heritage”.

Historic England also objected to the removal of the 19th Century pews from the nave of the church, while the Victorian Society said there was “a lack of justification for removal of chancel seating, the most decorative and handsome examples of historic seating in the church”.

Watford Borough Council’s objections echoed the concerns of the two conservation groups about the impact of the scheme on the significance of the church.

But despite the objections, consistory court judge Lyndsey de Mestre gave the project the green light, saying the work would “give the church an opportunity to move forward”.

She concluded: “The balance in this case is tipped clearly in favour of allowing the proposals, despite the harm that will be done to the significance of the church by doing so.”