St. Michael le Belfrey, York (III)

On 18 August, de Mestre Ch. handed down the substantial judgment Re St. Michael le Belfrey York [2023] ECC Yor 2 concerning the extensive reordering of the church. An overview was given in the first part of this post. The second part includes extracts from the conclusions to the Duffield questions regarding some of the major components of the petition. This final part considers the overall impact of the proposal and the court’s conclusions.

The overall impact of the proposed re-ordering scheme

Interaction between elements on petition

The Chancellor noted that the interaction between the elements of the church fabric meant that it was impossible to asses either the contribution of specific elements of the interior, or the impact of the specific proposed change, in isolation from other parts of the church [228]. Furthermore, she observed the extent to which these elements were necessarily interrelated:

“[239.1]. …the installation of the baptism pool, the provision of level access and underfloor heating are dependent on the removal of the pews, including the collegiate pews. The removal of the pews necessitates the seating in the new gallery. The new gallery requires the removal of the existing Gallery and staircases and the redesign of the narthex becomes possible as a result of the design of the new gallery…”.

However, an important corollary to the above is a condition of the grant of a faculty [Annex 1]  that:

“(1) If any material part or parts of the conservation work proposed as part of the faculty petition is not to take place, the whole re-ordering scheme shall be remitted to the DAC for re-consideration”.

Duffield Questions,

Nevertheless, she reviewed the overall impact of the proposed re-ordering scheme against  Re Duffield, [230] to [245], and in relation to the fourth  question said:

“[239.1]. ..the evidence before me strongly supports a conclusion that the Belfrey is already maximising its potential for existing and new activities but that it is greatly restricted in achieving aims (including for expanding its programmes and activities, offering new styles of worship, sharing its resources for full immersion baptism regionally, and developing its leadership training offerings as set out in its 5 Year Road Map”.

Alternatives to full reordering

Against this she noted that a wide range of alternative options to a full re-ordering had been considered in depth [1], but had been found wanting, “leaving the reordering as it is conceived in the petition as the only option which fully achieves the needs the parish has articulated without the drawbacks of the other options.” Furthermore, the more radical alternative of leaving the building altogether has been debated in depth. A number of possibilities were evaluated [2], but found to be unsuitable; the Chancellor was persuaded on the evidence before her that those conclusions were reasonable.


With regard to leaving the Belfrey altogether [3], it was recognised that this would be likely to be a significantly cheaper way forward, with savings available to support the mission of the church and assisting the Belfrey to continue to be a Resource church. However, persuasive anecdotal evidence supported a view that members a significant number would leave the church and the Belfrey would need to spend some years re-building its congregation in a new location. In addition, it was considered that donations necessary for repairs to the fabric of the Belfrey were unlikely to be continued at a sustainable level if the church community were required to relocate and donations were for the maintenance of a building it no longer worshipped in  [239.3].

Impact on DBF

The Chancellor noted that for many years The Belfrey had been one of the largest parish contributors to Diocesan funds [72]. An analysis by the Diocesan Secretary and Chief Executive explained a likely “domino-effect” impact on the York Diocesan Board of Finance in the event that the parish is unable to give effect to the plans in full, or are forced to substantially change them, where the PCC would then be forced to consider whether the project remained economically and operationally viable [239.4]. In particular,

“…if the church family considered that the constraints on its future mission were too great and were instead to seek to allocate the impact project funding towards the acquisition of a new building, it is postulated that the PCC would need to instigate the statutory processes under the [Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure 2018] to close the current church building (a protracted process likely to involve PCC and Diocesan staff),

with concerns expressed about the current ability of a heritage body such as the Churches Conservation Trust to take the church building on (advice having been received that the CCT’s future funding is already committed for the foreseeable future), and sale or lease being the alternative. If closure was rejected as an option, the leadership team could, alternatively, decide to step down, leaving a need for the appointment of a new incumbent and new PCC, which would set back plans for growth and delay essential repairs.


Citing the approach in Re Holy Trinity Hull [2017] ECC York 1 [4], de Mestre Ch. stated that she had had regard to this evidence as to the financial viability and wider Diocesan impact if the works were not carried out  [239.4], adding:

“[240]. In my judgment the matters above reveal that the proposed works as a whole are based on well evidenced, clearly presented, cogently argued justifications. These are, ultimately, very convincing in terms of revealing deep links between the church community, its role in the Diocese and the wider Church of England and the need to remain in the building, provided that it is modernised and redesigned in the way proposed. The opportunity for advancement of the church’s work would, in my judgment, be lost or significantly diminished by any of the alternatives of relocation, itinerancy or a forced re-working of plans leading to premises which constrain the ambitious plans of the parish.”

In granting a faculty she was satisfied that the impacts to the building as it presently stands had been the subject of most careful thought and refinement and that they are justified by what she had found to be well-evidenced, credible enhancements to the vibrant life of this church community and the advancement of important, wide-ranging contributions this church makes locally, regionally and nationally.

“A compelling case for advancing Christian ministry had been presented and all of the works proposed in this bold and innovative scheme should be permitted, subject to the conditions attached in Annex 1” [250].


The Analysis and Decision section prefacing the judgment commenced [20]:

“Out of the exhaustive evidence and detailed objections before me, I need to be able to distil and assess the impact the plans will have on the building and the benefits to the mission and worship of the church”.

A not dissimilar issue faced the reviewer of this substantial, multi-faceted judgment [5], which had to be further distilled to readable copy for L&RUK subscribers. Even in an extended 3-part form [6], it is inevitable that some aspects of the judgment will not have been covered, and certain nuances evident to those privy to the background information will be lost. Matters associated with the impact of the project on diocesan funds fall into the latter category, and for those with a public affairs/lobbying background, this is the section of greatest interest, [228] to [245].

Net zero

Other aspects of the judgment on which further detail would be of general benefit are the FJR requirement to have due regard to the “net zero guidance issued by the CBC. This was considered in four earlier petitions, most recently in Re All Saints Scotby [2023] ECC Car 3 Although The Belfrey petitioners gave consideration to this requirement, [210] to [214], Appendix 1 (12) to (16), the judgment does not expand on the statement: 

“The proposed new bivalent system using air source heat pumps will reduce carbon emissions[7]. In doing so it works towards achieving a net zero carbon target in a pragmatic way and is in line with the thorough Sustainability Statement produced by the architects [211].”

Likewise the “net zero” considerations on the application of external floodlighting, are limited to the statements:

“[223]. External floodlighting is always a matter which requires careful scrutiny, both as to the net zero carbon implications and as to any potential light pollution, wildlife or nuisance issues…”.

“[224]. I am content, having reviewed the lighting proposals carefully, that steps have been taken to minimise light pollution by reducing light emissions and focussing only on highlighting the main architectural features of the Belfrey”.

Photovoltaic panels

The installation of photovoltaic solar panels was rejected on the basis of “the significant amount of carbon released during their manufacture (i.e. “embodied carbon)” [210]. However, in Re St. Michael Wandsworth Common [2023] ECC Swk 2 it was noted that:

“[19]. …as regards earlier DAC advice/comments about factoring in ‘embodied carbon’ (i.e. the carbon emissions involved), there is not yet an agreed methodology to assess embodied carbon objectively and accurately within these types of proposals and to weigh it up against reductions in operational carbon emissions“.

A quantitative analysis of the use of PV cells is given in Re King’s College Chapel Cambridge (2) [2023] ECC Ely 2 which is reviewed here, and also here in relation to the associated embedded energy.


With regard to the replacement of the existing floor with limestone flags, relocation of the ledgers and installing underfloor heating, there were serious archaeological considerations for the work [147]. This perhaps is one of the remaining uncertainties for the project, although “[148]. In assessing the proposals [the Chancellor had] had regard to the two Geophysical Surveys by Dr Masinton and by Magnitude Surveys Ltd and the on-site archaeology reports appended to the Statement of Significance”. Furthermore, the faculty is conditional on:

“A Written Scheme of Investigation (“WSI”) in respect of those works with potential archaeological impact, to include careful and expert archaeological oversight of the works, shall be produced in consultation with the DAC Archaeology Advisers”, (Annex 1 (19)).

David Pocklington


[1]. Building an extension; building down; rooftop space; phased re-ordering; identifying additional spaces, [239.2].

[2]. Alternative options of leaving the building altogether were:

  • splitting the church’s activities between St Cuthbert’s church and the Belfrey Hall, separate York locations within its portfolio;
  • hiring a new venue – the target location analysed in particular detail was St Michael, Spurriergate;
  • establishing a new church in the city and handing the Belfrey over, or alternatively to retaining the Belfrey and running it solely as a heritage visitor attraction.

[3]. Implicit in the judgment is the necessity for the congregation to move to a different location during the buildings works. On 28 August 2023, the Archbishop of York’s web page reported that the church would be closed for two and a half years and the church and its services will be based in the De Grey Rooms when work begins in September.

[4]. In reference 26, de Mestre Ch. cited Re Holy Trinity Hull [2017] ECC York 1. However, in contrast to the financially secure St. Michael le Belfrey, which for many years had been one of the largest parish contributors to Diocesan funds, there was “no doubt that [Holy Trinity, Hull, was]  a church in dire financial need”.

[5]. In terms of length, Re St. Michael le Belfrey York is similar to Re Jesus College Cambridge [2022] ECC Ely 2 and thankfully shorted than Re Christ Church Spitalfields [2017] ECC Lon 1, but considerably longer than the average consistory court judgment reviewed to date in 2023.

[6]. For comparison, each of the three parts of this post comprises about 5 pages.

[7]. An air source heat pump works by absorbing heat from the environment extracting heat from the surrounding air and transferring that heat to the inside of the building. Bivalent systems utilise a secondary boiler, which is designed to provide additional heat into the distribution system when required.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "St. Michael le Belfrey, York (III)" in Law & Religion UK, 7 September 2023,


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