Historic England (HE) has published advice, prepared by Diana Evans, Head of Places of Worship Advice, on its involvement with proposals to install telecommunications equipment. HE is the statutory adviser to local authorities and the five listed denominations in accordance with the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 and the Ecclesiastical Exemption Order 2010. Therefore, if an installation will make changes to historic fabric that could affect the character or significance of a listed building, HE must be consulted – whether a congregation is seeking permission through its denominational advisory body or through the local authority. HE would normally expect the church’s architect or surveyor to be involved in assessing and advising on the proposals to ensure that appropriate methods and materials are used, damage to historic fabric is avoided and access is either maintained or improved.
The advice is as follows:
“What do we need to see to offer you relevant advice?
Before offering any advice, we need some basic information so we can understand the proposals and the impact on the building. You can provide this information in paper or digital format. Once we have all the relevant details we aim to provide advice on applications within 21 days. Every case is assessed on its merits.
- Statements of Significance and Need: remember that our guidance on making changes to historic churches states ‘the more harm the proposed changes are likely to cause to the significance of the building, the more they will require justification in terms of the public benefits they will bring.’
- The specification for the installation, including drawings showing location of any equipment, cable routes, access, etc.
- A plan of the church and churchyard, showing (depending on the nature of the installation) routes for cables, position of cabinets and any trenching.
- Photographs of the equipment, with an indication of size.
- Photographs of the church from the inside, marked to show where equipment will be located.
- Photographs of the church from the outside, marked to show the impact of any external equipment, eg antennae or dishes.
What issues will be of particular concern to us? What will be the impact of the installation on the outside of the building?
- Antennae, dishes or boxes may have an impact on the appearance or setting of the building. They may also change its setting in the wider landscape, which is an important part of the building’s significance. Further guidance on setting can be found here.
- Is it possible to minimise the impact, so that key views of the building are not spoiled, eg by lowering the height of equipment.
- If it is necessary to remove louvres then we expect that the installer will seek out the best possible alternative in the light of the contribution that these make to the significance of the building.
- Details of proposals for storage in a safe and secure location should be provided. Photographs of the original louvres in place before being removed will help when they are reinstated when the equipment is taken away or technology changes.
What are the impacts of the installation inside the building?
- What impact will fixings, fittings, cables and control equipment have on the interior of the building?
- Is it possible to minimise the impact so that historic fabric is not damaged?
- Will the work require the insertion of new steel beams to support cabinets?
- Where will the cable runs be routed and how will they be secured?
Access to the equipment and the rest of the building
- Will the equipment make it more difficult to access the roof, bells or bellframe for maintenance and repairs?
- Does the installer expect to keep the area locked to prevent unauthorised access to its equipment?
- Is the structure of the building, where the equipment is to be installed, strong enough to take the additional weight?
- Will the roof covering be breached by wires, creating a leak hazard, or how will the installation avoid this?
- Will fixings for antennae or other equipment avoid breaching the lead or blocking drains?
- Are there any archaeological implications, especially in cases where external cabinets are to be installed outside the church itself?”
Further information can be found on the websites of the Church Buildings Council and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. With regard to the involvement of the consistory courts, we have posted two summaries:
- Wi-Fi in churches – health effects, courts’ jurisdiction and locus standi; and
- Wi-Fi in churches – evidence, system security and commercial considerations.