Ecclesiastical court judgments – July (I)

Review of the ecclesiastical court judgments during July 2021 (I)

Eleven consistory court judgments were circulated in July 2021 and the seven featured in this first part of the round-up relate to reordering and other building works. The second part reviews the remaining four judgments which concern the removal and replacement of pewsPrivy Council Business, CDM Decisions and Safeguarding, and Privy Council Business.

Reordering, extensions and other building works

Reordering and alternative uses

Re Peel Cathedral [2021] EC Sodor 2 The reordering proposals included: the installation of new toilet and kitchen facilities and multi-functional space; replacement of the pews with Howe 40/4 chairs; a new floor with underfloor heating; a mezzanine floor and roof-lights; the creation of a columbarium; a new doorway; and the screening of external storage areas. The agreed detailed proposals, set out in [4], were considered with reference to the tests set out in the decision of the Court of Arches in relation to Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158. The creation of the multifunctional space would involve the loss of the pews in the nave. However, they are not the original pews which would have been in the Victorian building.

The installation of the new level floor in the nave as originally envisaged involved creating a baptismal immersion pool at the west end of the nave and removing the existing floor. However, planning permission was refused for the baptismal pool and for the removal of the floor, which incorporates Minton mosaic tiling. The revised proposal, which the planning permission authorises, involves laying new material on top of the existing mosaic floor to produce the desired level surface, but without destroying the tiles. The Vicar General & Chancellor commended the proposal to incorporate underfloor heating on the grounds of improving accessibility [7]. However, the judgment does not address the associated carbon emissions.

The incorporation of the mezzanine floor and the screening for external storage areas did not merit particular comment from the Court; comment. However, “on the other hand, the creation of the columbarium (also known as “the Life Treasury”) in the North Vestry perhaps does”, and this was dealt with in paragraph 17 (and is covered in a separate post) [10]. Although Re St. Alkmund, Duffield was cited,

“[12] The reference to particularly categories of listing which apply in England have no relevance in a Manx context. Nevertheless, there are some of the Island’s churches which ,were they in England, would fall into those categories. I suspect that the Cathedral would be listed at the level of Grade 2. “

Nevertheless, there were similarities between the cathedral and the church of St Michael,  Garston, Liverpool, and it seemed sensible to to approach the application in relation to St German’s in the same way, and apply the same tests as in Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [12]. Faculty granted. [Re Peel Cathedral [2021] EC Sodor 2] [post] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. John the Evangelist Hoylandswaine [2021] ECC Lee 4 The petitioners wished to reorder the interior of the church to provide toilets, a kitchen, storage and improved heating. The Grade II church was built in 1869 by the architect W. H. Crossland. The primary objective of the PCC was to ensure the church building remais open for worship for the foreseeable future preventing possible closure and redundancy of the building. The Statement of Need referred to growing the church community, keeping the interest of current youngsters and attracting further people in order for the church to survive as a viable worshipping community with a caring arm reaching out to a changing community whilst remaining financially viable [6].

Notwithstanding the general aspirations of the petitioners, the Chancellor considered that the works would result in harm to the significance of this church as a building of special architectural or historic interest; the petitioners had not produced sufficient substantive evidence of the prospective benefits of the works which might outweigh any harm that might be caused to the historic integrity of the church. He was critical of the evidence presented by the petitioners (detailed in [10]) and concluded:

“[25]. It follows from the evidential deficit in the justification that the balancing exercise can only result in the dismissal of this petition. The reasons advanced for the works are aspirational only, with no sufficient grounding in evidence, and accordingly on the case presented by the petitioners the suggested public benefit remains illusory and is insufficient to outweigh the undoubted harm.”

The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty.

[Re St. John the Evangelist Hoylandswaine [2021] ECC Lee 4] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. Peter Heversham [2021] ECC Car 3 The petitioners’ proposals included: the creation of a draught lobby in the church porch with new screening, glass doors and stepless access; a second toilet, accessible to the disabled; removal of some pews; alteration of the children’s pews; and some electrical works and minor alterations to the heating system.

Historic England and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings were concerned about the impact of the proposed porch screen on the building’s significance and special interest, [30 to 32] and [33 to 37]. respectively. The response from the Victorian Society [38 to 40] added no further points to those of HE and SPAB. However, the Chancellor was satisfied that the petitioners had made out a good case for the proposals and he granted a faculty, subject to issues raised in a report by Envirotech which related to bats and birds. These include:

The proposed works are to be undertaken during the months of November to March; prior to commencement the Petitioners must obtain an European Protected Species Licence in relation to bats, and undertake a check for nesting birds; the work are not to be undertaken in such a way that active bird nesting sites and bats are disturbed; the Mitigation strategy in the Envirotech report are to be strictly complied with; and external floodlights are not to be used when the bats are roosting.

[Re St. Peter Heversham [2021] ECC Car 3] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Other building works, including re-roofing

Re St. Bartholomew Leigh [2021] ECC Swk 6 The proposal is to form an extension of the tower to the south by moving its lower external wall between the buttresses so that it extends towards but not beyond the southern extent of the buttresses. This would provide space within the narthex beneath the gallery to provide a WC and tea point. It is proposed to take the opportunity of these works to provide access to the church via the west door for those whose mobility is impaired. At the moment such access is impeded by the existence of a step. The provision of such access will involve lifting and relaying the tiling of the porch [14]. There were eight objectors, none becoming parties opponent, and their objections were summarized in [22] to [28].

The Chancellor considered the Petitioners’ case [30] to [49] on which he concluded:

“[50]. It will be apparent from my consideration above that there being an identified need for a WC, a tea point and access for those whose mobility is impaired, I consider that the Petitioners have made out their case for the grant of a faculty and that I do not consider that the objections are of such weight as to justify refusal of a faculty. It will also be seen that the matters I have considered have ranged beyond the narrow issue of harm to the listed building.”

Applying the Duffield guidance, although there would be harm, there was clear and convincing justification for the proposals, and “the heritage harm seems…to be so modest that the resulting public benefit clearly outweighs any heritage harm. I make this judgment recognising that the building is Grade II*”. A faculty was granted, subject to conditions. Chancellor Petchey concluded:

“[65]. It would be absurd to think that the provision of a WC and tea point as something that will solve all the challenges presently facing the church in Leigh. It will however necessarily finally resolve the vigorous and sometimes divisive debate about the issue that has gone on for a long time and must have been a distraction from the mission and ministry of the church; and I hope of course that in due course everyone will see these works as a great benefit.

[Re St. Bartholomew Leigh [2021] ECC Swk 6] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. Bartholomew Tong [2021] ECC Lic 2 An earlier faculty had been granted to allow the installation of glass doors in wooden frames at the south porch of the church. However, the manufacturers subsequently advised that the proposed frames were not thick enough to support the glass; the petitioners therefore agreed to slightly wider frames, but without referring the matter to the DAC. The petitioners were also advised that patch hinges would be inadequate and they agreed to floor socket hinges. The doors were installed.

The petitioners applied for three variations to this faculty: (1) retrospective approval of wider frames and alternative hinges; (2) replacing the proposed oak handles with stainless steel; and (3) applying to the glass a film bearing the designs originally  proposed, instead of etching, on account of the high cost of the etching.

The Chancellor approved the wider profile of the wooden surrounds of the doors but refused to approve replacing the oak handles with stainless steel ones. He also approved the application of film to the glass, provided that further attempts to raise the cost of the etching by 1st November 2021 failed. It was noted [34] that “the sum of £8,000 is a modest one in the context of the overall cost of this project”. [Re St. Bartholomew Tong [2021] ECC Lic 2] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. Cuthbert Over Kellet [2021] ECC Bla 4 The Petitioners sought approval for the permanent removal of the doors from twenty seven late-Georgian (1819) and three Victorian (1863) wooden box pews in the Grade II* listed church. The doors had already been temporarily removed under an Archdeacon’s licence for temporary reordering [1]. The main objectives were to make access to the pews easier and safer (especially for children) and to improve the visual appearance of the church, as explained in the Statement of Needs [6, 7]. The proposal had the full support of the PCC, and the DAC recommended the proposal for approval by the court despite advising that this was likely to affect the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest [4].

Objections were received from Historic England, the Ancient Monuments Society, the Victorian Society, and the Georgian Society [8].The Chancellor noted [11]:

“The parish clearly view the pew doors not simply as a nuisance because they have to be opened and closed twice during each service. Their objections to the reinstatement of the pew doors are clearly more fundamental than that. In summary, the parish consider that the visual appearance of the church is improved, that accessibility is improved, and that the congregation and visitors feel safer and more welcome during services”.

Following a visit to the church and consideration of the authorities, the Chancellor refused to grant a faculty; he concluded [17]:

“[16]. …the permanent removal of the pew doors would result in harm to the historic significance and the fabric of this Grade II* listed church.

“[17]. …I am not satisfied that the parish have put forward any clear or convincing justification, still less a compelling case, for the permanent removal of the pew doors. I do not find that considerations of health and safety are sufficient to outweigh the harm that would be caused by the permanent removal of the pew doors. I do not consider that the difficulty of opening and closing the pew doors is any greater, or more unmanageable, for the present than for past generations of worshippers”.  [Re St. Cuthbert Over Kellet [2021] ECC Bla 4] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Re St. John the Evangelist Newbury [2021] ECC Oxf 6 The unopposed faculty petition sought “to improve community access to the church building by creating a glazed outer porch to the main entrance of the church and a ramp within the existing porch space and relocating the electrical cupboard, mains supply and distribution board” [1]. The works will only start when sufficient funds have been raised for the project to proceed.

The Grade II church was built between 1955 and 1957 and is within the Newbury Town Centre Conservation Area. The Twentieth Century Society was consulted at an earlier stage of the development of the present proposals, but was not entirely convinced by the then proposed porch structure; they raised concerns over the impact on the appearance of the south elevation of the church. However, these concerns appeared to have been sufficiently addressed by the proposals as they presently stand; but if any concerns remain, they will be adequately addressed by condition in [26(1)].

The two objective of the proposal are to provide:

  • A single access point for all, by providing a disabled access via the main entrance.
  • improved visibility and presentation of the entrance and the narthex.

The four aspects of the design are detailed in [5] and the rationale explained in [6]. A Heritage Impact Assessment, commissioned from the Oxford Heritage Partnership, indicates that the church is regarded as the best new ecclesiastical building by Dykes Bower, and is of high significance for its architectural, historical, and communal value [13]. The local planning authority granted planning permission, Application No 20/03031/FUL, the case officer’s report stating that the new porch would represent a modest addition to the site and would remain subservient to the main church [18]. His report concludes that he considers “the addition of a glazed porch to the southern elevation of the church will have an acceptable impact on the Grade II listed building, the character of the Newbury Conservation Area, and neighbouring properties and land uses” [20].

The Chancellor, applying Re St. Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, was satisfied that a good case had been made for the proposals and granted a faculty.  [Re St. John the Evangelist Newbury [2021] ECC Oxf 6] [Top of section] [Top of post]

Notes on the conventions used for the navigation between cases reviewed in this post are summarized here.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Ecclesiastical court judgments – July (I)" in Law & Religion UK, 31 July 2021,


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