“Net zero”, church heating, and the consistory courts – I

The consistory courts have an important role to play in authorizing some of the changes to church buildings that are necessary for the Church of England to meet its carbon reduction targets; some of these are identified in a General Synod document [1] A recent paper by Jacqueline Humphreys has assessed the current operation of the faculty jurisdiction and identified areas where changes are necessary [2]. This post reviews judgments relevant to church heating, listed according to the date of the judgment.[3]. These will be updated in future post(s) as they become available.


In February 2020, the General Synod of the Church of England set a target to reduce its carbon emissions to “net zero” by 2030 and subsequently it has been working to establish the metrics associated with this goal, and to gain commitment from its dioceses, here. Appendix 2 of the Background Paper from the Environment Working Group, Rising to the Challenge: reaching Net Zero by 2030, GS Misc 1262, which was presented to Synod in November 2020, reported that from the recent church energy audit analysis [126 churches and halls], it was calculated that heating comprises up to 84% of church energy usage, with lighting contributing 6%, and 10% from other sources.

The more comprehensive base-line study conducted in 2012 [4] indicated that although the CofE has 3 times as many churches as schools, more than half its carbon footprint comes from its schools; the heating and lighting is on for the majority of the week, at a temperature suitable for children. The majority of the remainder was found to come from churches and clergy housing. The study indicated the need to focus strategically on the highest energy-use buildings; cathedrals, schools, offices and large churches; smaller churches, often used only a few hours a week, already have a very low carbon footprint.

Recent considerations in the consistory courts

There have been a number of considerations in the consistory courts relevant to the General Synod motion agreed in February 2020; extracts from the judgments in which considered the replacement of heating systems are reproduced below, in the order according to the date in which they were handed down.

Pre-2020 judgments

Re St. John the Baptist Suckley [2017] ECC Wor 2. [judgment, 18 November 2017; reviewed here] Following a 2015 judgment, approval was given for new flooring and underfloor heating, although not for items on which consultation with local planning authority was required, or removal of pews since this had changed in detail and a new petition and consultation were required. With regard to heating, “in accordance with condition (1) of the earlier judgment, the Parish had produced a detailed scheme for the under-floor heating and a new timber floor:

“[24]. The heating has been the subject of detailed discussion with the DAC heating advisor, and it appears that all minor details have now been sorted out. And Historic England has apparently raised no objection. The Victorian Society appears not to have expressed a view as to the heating; but it has been consulted. There is no explicit statement as to there having been any public consultation on the heating; however, there has been full public discussion of the new floor, as described in the Statement of Need, and this would have almost inevitably involved mention of the heating.”

Re St. Philip and St. James Whittington [2017] Ecc Wor 1, [judgment, 12 November 2017; reviewed here]. The overall principle of the proposed extension was supported by the DAC; in its recommendation of the proposals, it indicated that it required to see “a full and detailed specification of the works, to include materials and finishes and details of the heating system”. There was no further consideration of the heating in the judgement, and the decision turned on the impact of the proposed extension on the veteran yew tree, i.e. about 500 to 1200 years old. Permission for the extension was refused.


Re St. Michael & All Angels Blackheath Park [2020] ECC Swk 1, [judgment, 22 January 2020; review here]. This concerned the installation of start-of-the-art floodlighting. Although the judgment preceded the General Synod resolution, environmental issues were clearly an important concern. In granting permission, Chancellor Philip Petchey commented [emphasis added]:

“[29]. The Diocesan Environment Working Group will want to consider this judgment. At an earlier stage of my consideration of these proposals I ascertained that it was not its role to give me advice on specific proposals; that role remained with the DAC. The direct implications for the future of this judgment would seem to be that parishes should carefully consider the effects on the carbon footprint of the installation of floodlighting but that, having done so, the decision on whether to install it is a matter for them. Potentially some Diocesan guidance might be helpful but whether the Working Group feels it appropriate for it to give it is of course entirely a matter for it to decide”.

Chancellor Petchey noted that there was one specific document on floodlighting: The Guidance Note Floodlighting issued in 2012 by the Church Buildings Council. He granted a faculty to permit the installation of external floodlighting. The judgment contains a discussion of the effect of floodlighting on the carbon footprint of the church.

[Note: Whilst the general principles of floodlighting church buildings are unlikely to have changed, the same is unlikely to be the case for the technology and the assessment of the associated carbon footprint; in the review we suggested that an update of the 2012 guidance should be considered].

Re St. Thomas Ashton-in-Makerfield [2020] ECC Liv 1 [judgment, 7 February 2020; review here]. “The internal space heating is presently provided by an old gas-fired boiler with pipework and cast-iron radiators which currently are positioned in and around the internal fittings and fixtures” [7]. The proposed replacement heating scheme comprised a new boiler plant and underfloor heating [9.7].

“The heating system is somewhat antiquated and expensive to run, and in a re-ordering which involves the removal of floor surfaces there is an opportunity to install modern underfloor heating which is efficient and less costly [10].


“In terms of the wider use of the church, there are a number of community organisations who would not only wish to use the facilities of a more flexible space, but who would be willing to pay so to do. This would raise much-needed income to pay for the fabric of the building. Some of these organisations use the church hall, which is believed to be less suited, and some distance away from the church [10]”.

The corollary of which is whilst the heating will be generated more efficiently, it is likely that it will be used for longer periods of time.

Re St. John the Baptist Capel [2020] ECC Gui 2. [judgment 30 March 2020, review here]. An objector to the proposal for the lighting project asserted [at 7(iv)] that no other options had been considered to reduce the carbon footprint of the existing lighting. The Chancellor stated that for the reasons given in (iii) [infra], “the PCC have used their judgment and have taken professional advice as to whether the current system can be adapted or should be replaced. There is no evidence to suggest that they have wilfully refused to consider what other options are available”.

“7(iii) The PCC’s decision is supported by the detailed workings of lighting experts, the Friends of Capel Church, the DAC, the congregation and the wider public (to judge from the absence of any objection save that expressed by [the objector]). There is no legitimate basis for saying that [the objector’] sole voice should determine the outcome of this petition.”

Re St. Helen Worcester [2020] ECC Wor 2  [judgment 18 May 2020; review here]. A faculty was granted for major reordering of the city centre church, which was in poor repair and little used, with a view to improving it for worship and attracting more community use. This included the installation of a new floor, level with the existing chancel floor, to enable step-free access throughout the interior, with new under-floor heating throughout except under the chance. There was no discussion on the heating component of the petition.

Re St. Luke Southport [2020] ECC Liv 2 [judgment,14 September 2020;  review here] The options for the replacement for the heating system did not appear to be a major consideration, either with regard to the technical justification or the implications vis-à-vis the CofE “Net Zero” target. Nevertheless, it is intuitively obvious that appreciable saving will be made using the proposed approach to space heating, and this approach has the potential for broader application elsewhere in the Church of England. The Chancellor noted:

“It is clear…that this very large space would be expensive to heat, and a small congregation easily lost within the nave. The south transept, which is the area currently used as a small chapel, has an attractive stained glass full length window”. [3].

“Presently the congregation meets in the church hall because of the difficulties of heating the internal space within the church building, with the old heating system which relies on the blowing of hot air, and which has to be turned on at least a day in advance of any service…The hope is that the creation of this new enclosed chapel area will encourage more to attend (although of course it will be self-limiting if a maximum of 50 can be seated) but will also provide the opportunity for children’s groups…”. [5].

Re St. Mark Mitcham [2020] ECC Swk 5 [judgment, 15 November 2020; review here] considered the replacement of an existing gas-fuelled heating system in the light of the Church’s “net zero”  commitment. The court made reference to there earlier judgment Re St. Michael & All Angels Blackheath Park. [This was reviewed in Carbon neutrality and the consistory courts].

The judgment contains some comments by the Chancellor about the need for churches to work towards carbon neutrality in the context of the General Synod motion in February 2020 [7] to [10]. He expressed a hope that those who have to consider these matters in the wider church will find it helpful to have this judgment [11].


Re St. Mary Oxted [2021] ECC Swk 1. [judgment 16 February 2021; reviewed in Call for C of E guidance on achievement of “net zero” GHG emissions]. Involved the replacement of an existing boiler where although there was a technically feasible “green” alternative, the running costs of which were considered to be prohibitively high. Chancellor Philip Petchey expressed reservations about approving a gas-fired boiler, bearing in mind the policy of the Church of England to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, and stated:

“[8]. …decisions about carbon neutrality should be taken at parish level and … it is not for Chancellors to seek to impose solutions through the clumsy mechanism of refusing otherwise acceptable proposals. But it does seem that, absent new technology coming to the rescue, the effect of a whole series of decisions like the one in the present case is likely to lead to the 2030 target being missed. I consider that this should be addressed in the guidance given to parishes by the National Church about the achievement of carbon neutrality and how they should address competing priorities in the formulation of their budgets“.

Re St. John the Evangelist Donisthorpe [2021] ECC Lei 1. [judgment 27 February 2021; review here] The Chancellor granted a faculty for substantial internal reordering including a new heating system based on an oil-fired boiler. The parish had “diligently investigated many alternative systems of heating” and engaged a specialist heating consultant during the process of preparing the Petition. However, “[u]ltimately it is cost that has forced the Petitioners’ hand in relation to the heating system to be used.” This is of particular significance since it is compromises the Church of England’s target of “net zero carbon emissions by 2030”, and issue explored further in “Net zero” in 2030 – a courageous decision?.

Re St. Paul Addlestone [2020] ECC Gui 1, [judgment 2 March 2021; review here]. This was a successful application to install solar panels on the roof of an unlisted Victorian Church, the parish argued that the justification for the application was not only to save money by generating part of their own electricity (saving about 18% on its energy bills, up to ~£1,000 p.a.) but also expressly ‘to champion the environmental benefits of green sustainable power within the local community. (2 March 2020).

Re West Malling Abbey [2021] ECC Roc [judgment, 12 April 2021; review here] The judgment is principally concerned with the aesthetics of the globes around the existing lights. However, the Statement of Need includes a reference to “a desire [of the petitioners, Abbess Anne Clarke OSB and Mr Roger Molyneux, authorised to act on behalf of the Community] to reduce the use of energy to illuminate and heat the building”.


The replacement of heating systems, particularly when this comprises just one component of a major reordering scheme, is not a short-term undertaking, and a number of those in the above judgments had been in their gestation for some time. Consequently, in view of the short timescale of events since setting the “net zero” target in February 2020, it is unsurprising that the Church’s carbon reduction aspirations were not a major feature in some of these schemes.

This is likely to change as the Church of England progresses in the formulation of a route to net zero emissions by 2030, or shortly afterwards. The Church has produced a series of webinars on low carbon solutions on heating, lighting, solar and others; these include: “Heating, to replace or nor replace?” and “And Choosing the best heating solution for your church”, recordings of which are available here, and here (from 6.06 minutes).

At L&RUK our monthly updates of consistory court judgments will provide the basis for future reviews of this aspect of reducing GHG emissions. Also, at 17:30 on 5 September 2021, the Right Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, Dean of the Arches and Auditor, will deliver the lecture “Clean and green – law and the Carbon neutral Church” to the Ecclesiastical Law Society.

David Pocklington

[1]. Appendix 3, A practical path to “net zero carbon” for our churches of Rising to the Challenge: reaching Net Zero by 2030, GS Misc 1262. Confusingly, this is not headed as “Appendix 3” but is to be found between Appendix 2 and Appendix 4. 

[2]. Jaqueline Humphreys, The Role of the Faculty System in Achieving Net-Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030. (2021) 23 Ecc LJ 50–66.

[3]. Those reviewed here cover the period from 18 November 2017 to 24 May 2021.

[4].  Energy Audit Report 2012/13, Kate Symonds, Project Manager, Shrinking the Footprint Energy Audit, September 2013.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "“Net zero”, church heating, and the consistory courts – I" in Law & Religion UK, 24 May 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/05/24/net-zero-church-heating-and-the-consistory-courts/


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