The Ecclesiastical Exemption

It is some fifty years since the Established Church, the Church of England, set up the present system of advice and control of the alterations or demolition of its own churches. The system depends upon the loyal and unpaid services of the Diocesan Advisory Committees, appointed by the Bishop, and reporting to the Archdeacons on applications by the parishes for Faculties, under the general guidance of the Faculty Jurisdiction Commission. Other churches of other denominations have similar, though perhaps not such thorough, arrangements. The CoE measures are confirmed by statute —the Pastoral Measure of 1968, the Redundant Churches Act of 1970 and a revised Pastoral Measure of 1983. There is the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, an eminent body, the Redundant Churches Fund, (increasingly funded by the DoE), the Church Commissioners themselves, and the Council for the Care of Churches, established in 1921 and now a permanent Commission of the General Synod.

Generally speaking the future of churches in use falls outside the provisions of the Planning Acts, but since 1968, the future of listed buildings, including many churches, has been a matter of increasing public concern, The DoE has now published a green consultation paper on the “Ecclesiastical Exemption”, and it is hoped ACO members will have had the opportunity to discuss the options.

The Council for the Care of Churches, for its part, organised a one day conference at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 4th June, attended by some 150, including a good number of conservation officers. However, much of the day was taken up by an exposition of how well the existing voluntary system had managed, and the question of what changes might be desirable, if any, or what improvements might be possible was scarcely explored. There was evidence of a genuine concern on the part of church authorities to continue to care for the “heritage” within the constraints imposed by their prime objective, the
care of souls. The evidence ot the record proved hard to analyse, as statistics are few and happily quoted at random. It appears there may be anything between 15,000 and 20,000 historic CoE churches of which half may be mediaeval, and 80% of which are listed.
Faaulty applications, in London, may run at ten times the secular rate of applications for LB consent does that indicate closer control for churches? There are some 43 Diocesan Advisory Committees in the country, some 500 —600 members of which, say, 200 are experts. Very few. How many mistakes have they made? Ashley Barker suggests two in London in recent years. How many mistakes go unrecorded or noticed? Is it better for guidance to come fron within by the willing owner or from without? What of the many non—Anglican churches? Bath, for example, has 65 churches of which 41 are listed, 52 are in’ Conservation Areas, but only 14 are CoE. More and later non—conformist churches will be included in the Lists on the review.

Lord Sandford, well qualified to speak for both church and state, urged that we draw on the strengths of-both systems, and bring other churches under the protective arm of the system we’ve already got. Most lay people felt that the present system should be im proved and strengthened, and that a move towards “partnership”, at least, with the local planning authorities, would probably prove to be mutually beneficial. How precisely it was to be done was another matter!