An end to quinquennial inspections?

Would nationally-set Regulations be an improvement on the present diocesan-focused schemes?

“Within the Church of England every church building must be inspected by an architect or chartered building surveyor approved by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) every five years. This regular system of review is designed to ensure that church buildings are kept in good repair”, [ChurchCare].

The Church’s quinquennial system is a requirement of the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955 and is based upon schemes established by Diocesan Synods. On the morning of Saturday 9 July, the General Synod of the Church of England will give its First Consideration to the Draft Inspection of Churches Measure, GS 2028 (Explanatory Memorandum, GS 2028x) with a view to introducing  a new legislative framework.

Current inspection regime

Quinquennial inspections

A summary of the current inspection regime in provided on the ChurchCare web site, which describes the Quinquennial Report as

“one of the key documents which assists the Parochial Church Council (PCC) in the care and repair of a church building, for which it is legally responsible. It gives a snapshot of the repair needs of the building, and lists the repairs required according to their priority. It is also read by the DAC, the archdeacon and by any grant-giving bodies which the PCC approaches”.

The scheme requires the appointment of qualified persons, approved by the diocesan advisory committee, to carry out inspections and to make a report on each church inspected. The appointment of such “professional advisers” is made by the PCC on the advice of the DAC which may make use of an ‘approved list’. For a professional adviser’s view, see  Appointment of Professionals for Quinquennial Inspections: An Introduction to Accreditation and Approval Systems. The ChurchCare website provides a template draft letter of appointment for the architect/surveyor and a proforma Quinquennial Inspection Report.

A survey will address aspects of the repair of the building; maintenance; sustainability; safety of the structure; unsafe floors; and access. In addition, it will cover other issues which involving the expertise of other professionals:

  • the electrical system, which should be tested every five years by an electrician who is a member of the NICEIC or the ECA;
  • testing of the lightning conductor;
  • an energy review “every few years” to assist with carbon management; and
  • an arboricultural report on trees &c in the churchyard.

Legislation requiring inspections

Fundamental to any scheme of inspection are the duties and responsibilities of churchwardens, PCCs and archdeacons, as laid out in the Church’s Canons. The churchwardens are the legal owners of the plate, ornaments, and other moveable goods of the church – see Canon E 1 Of Churchwardens – but the responsibility for their maintenance rests with the PCC: see Canon F 14 Of the provision of things appertaining to churches. The latter imposes broader obligations and encompasses:

“the care and repair of churches, chapels, and churchyards referred to in the foregoing Canons shall, so far as the law may from time to time require, be provided and performed in the case of parochial churches and chapels by and at the charge of the parochial church council”.

Canon C 22 Of Archdeacons requires archdeacons to hold yearly visitations either in person or by deputy, and survey all churches, chancels, and churchyards within their archdeaconry; they must “give direction for the amendment of all defects in the walls, fabric, ornaments, and furniture of the same, and in particular shall exercise the powers conferred on [them[ by the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955”. No changes are proposed to this underlying structure, although the requirements and duties of those within it may change.

The proposed regime

The intention is to replace the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955 by the proposed Inspection of Churches Measure 2017, the objective of which is to “ensure a level of consistency in the approach to the inspection and reporting on church buildings across the dioceses, in particular with a view to helping parishes to meet the requirements of funding bodies and other current practical and legal requirements” [paragraph 5, Explanatory Notes]. The Explanatory Notes also state [paragraph 4]:

“[t]he draft Measure provides a new legislative framework. It avoids prescribing detailed provisions in relation to the inspection of churches. It does not, for example, prescribe the frequency of inspections or what must be inspected and reported on. Instead, it provides for detailed provision, on a national (rather than diocesan) basis, to be set out in Regulations made by the Archbishops’ Council with the approval of the General Synod. It also requires the Church Buildings Council to issue guidance about the exercise of functions under the Regulations”.

The reference to the “avoidance of prescribing detailed provisions” might lead to confusion unless read in conjunction with the draft Measure, under which:

  • the Archbishops’ Council must by regulations make provision requiring: (a) inspections to be carried out of every church in each diocese both provinces; (b) inspections to be carried out of every building included in the list maintained under the Care of Places of Worship Measure 1999, and (c) a report to be made of each inspection, (section 1(1));
  • in addition to specifying the conduct of an inspection, its reporting and payment of costs, the Regulations may: specify how often inspections must be carried out, (section 1(2)(a)); specify the matters which an inspection must cover, (section 1(2)(f)); specify the matters which the report of an inspection must include, (section 1(2)(g)
  • the matters which may be specified under subsection (2)(f) in the case of a church include movable articles in the church, and ruins or trees in the churchyard, which are of a specified description, (section 1(4));
  • The Regulations may be generally-applicable, specific or subject to specific exceptions; different provisions may be made for different cases; provide for the exercise of discretion; and may include incidental, supplementary, consequential, saving, transitional or transitory provision, (section 1(6)).
  • Regulations made by the Archbishops’ Council must to be laid before the General Synod for its approval which will be able to amend the regulations before approving them, (section 1(7)). They must be in the form of a statutory instrument and laid before, and to be subject to annulment (but not modification), by either House of Parliament, (section 1(8));
  • the Church Buildings Council must issue Guidance concerning the exercise of functions under the Regulations. There is currently no provision for PCCs, archdeacons &c to “have regard to” such quasi-legislation, although this is only a minor detail, (section 3); and
  • Before making the regulations, the Archbishops’ Council must consult: (a) the Church Buildings Council, and (b) such other persons as the Archbishops’ Council considers appropriate, (section 1(5)).

On this last point, the Explanatory Memorandum indicates that there will be “wide consultation” by the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division before regulations and guidance under the new framework are brought forward for approval by the General Synod.

The proposed Measure will encompass “churches” falling within its definition in section 2, which effectively relates to those subject to the faculty jurisdiction. Under the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure 1964, this includes the unconsecrated curtilage of a consecrated church, and any licenced but unconsecrated church,  [Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, 4th edition, Timothy Briden, at page 123-4].


Although the legislation is said to “[avoid] prescribing detailed provisions in relation to the inspection of churches”, the proposed Measure is couched in mandatory language; the discretionary component falls within the Regulations made under this Measure, and since these must be in the form of a statutory instrument laid before Synod and Parliament, it is unlikely that they will be subject to frequent change. Nevertheless, in view of the significant changes that are in prospect, there is little indication of its regulatory impact, cost implications &c, and any increased flexibility will be contained in the yet-unseen Regulations.

If this does indeed prove to be the beginning of the end of quinquennial inspections in the Church of England it will be in some sense the end of an era. The Church was probably the first organisation with a substantial historic built heritage to introduce regular, systematic inspections of its buildings; and the idea has been copied by others. For example, the Church of Scotland introduced regular quinquennial inspections by Act IX, 1979; the current regulations are set out in Act XII, 2007 (Anent Care of Ecclesiastical Properties). The Methodist Church has a similar requirement: see Information Leaflet T17: Quinquennial Inspections. The Church in Wales has written quinquennial inspections into its Constitution; under Chapter IV A, each Diocesan Board of Finance “shall make a scheme whereby every church in the Diocese shall be inspected at least once every five years”. In the secular field, the National Trust for Scotland established its Quinquennial Survey system, in conjunction with Historic Scotland, in 1985.

In short, if the Church of England did not actually invent the quinquennial building survey, it was certainly among the very early adopters.

David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer

Cite this article as: David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer, “An end to quinquennial inspections?” in Law & Religion UK,  27 June 2015,

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