Places of Worship
When an exempt listed place of worship ceases to be used for regular worship, it comes under normal local authority controls. However, in legal terms, that might be sometime after the ‘last’ service has taken place. Therefore the six exempt denominations have undertaken to inform the local authority when formal worship ceases. As the Established Church, the Church of England has a statutory process under the Pastoral Measure 1983, operated by the Pastoral and Redundant Churches Division of the Church Commissioners in London. It is a two stage process, firstly to create new arrangements for the spiritual care of the parish concerned and secondly, to arrange the future of the building, its contents and any surrounding churchyard. The local planning authority will be consulted on draft proposals at both stages (as will English Heritage and others).
Once the first stage has been completed and the building enters the ‘waiting period’, responsibility for the listed building transfers from the parish to the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF). Both listed building and faculty jurisdiction controls will apply to any works carried out or any removal of fittings, though procedures exist for emergency action.
The second Redundancy stage will provide for the building to be
- Vested in (transferred to) the Churches Conservation Trust
- Sold or leased to a third party
- Leased to the diocese
It will also provide for the safe keeping of parish registers, plate and other valuables, the disposal of the font and for the future ownership of the churchyard. If it is still in use for burial, then responsibility will usually be transferred to the new ecclesiastical parish; if not, then ownership will transfer to the new owners or another body (like the Parish Council).
The Church Commissioners have agreed to ask the Department of Communities and Local Government (previously Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ODPM) to hold a non-statutory public inquiry if they are proposing to demolish a listed church, and to abide by the Secretary of State’s decision.
The Pastoral Measure is being reviewed and these procedures will be changing, possibly during 2007
Churchyards and cemeteries
The maintenance of closed Church of England churchyards can become the duty of the local authority through a Home Office closure Order under the Burials Act. These are usually in urban centres and the original legislation was enacted for reasons of public health. However, unless there has been subsequent action under the Pastoral Measure, the legal effects of consecration still apply and a faculty will be required for any ‘works’ beyond grass cutting (including tree management). A recent High Court case, brought by the Parochial Church Council, has required the local authority to carry out essential and expensive repairs to fulfil its obligations.
Similarly, if a public or privately owned cemetery has been consecrated in the past, a faculty will be required for any work beyond minor maintenance, especially for any actions resulting from ‘topple testing’ of memorials. The memorials and monuments in churchyards and cemeteries remain the property of the family or heirs-at-law, unless any other legal arrangement has been made.
The Department for Consitutional Affairs’ Guide for Burial Ground Managers (2006) contains advice on the law; service and standards; staff training; planning; finance; complaints for cemeteries and other burial grounds. The local government ombudsmen have issued advice to local authorities about memorial safety. For further information on cemeteries, and their conservation and management please see the English Heritage publication Paradise Preserved.