Successive UK governments have accepted that the various Christian denominations should be permitted to make changes to their listed churches in the light of their evolving needs. The demands of liturgy and lay participation have necessitated structural changes to church buildings. Ecclesiastical exemption from listed building control is a legal privilege granted to Christian denominations. But like any other privilege it must be carefully preserved with scrupulous adherence to Government regulations.
The Government has set out its requirements in the Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 (SI 2010 No 1176) – the 2010 Order. Roman Catholic Dioceses and the Religious Orders located in those Dioceses are one of the denominations granted ecclesiastical exemption from listed building control for their listed places of worship.
A key requirement of the 2010 Order is that each denomination must have documented procedures for making changes to its listed ecclesiastical buildings (listed churches and other listed structures in their curtilage). The controls should be open and transparent, with similar levels of consultation and engagement with local communities and statutory bodies - planning authorities, Historic England and national amenity societies - as required in the secular control system.
The decision making body must be independent of the local church or parish community. The Bishops of the five Dioceses established the Southern Historic Churches Committee with a remit to administer and determine applications for works to their listed churches. The various Religious Orders and Ordinaries within the five Dioceses have also accepted the role of the Southern Historic Churches Committee.
The 2010 Order does not exempt a denomination from the need to also obtain planning consent from the Local Authority for development affecting the exterior of a listed place of worship.
A listed church retains the exemption provided regular public services are held there. Exemption ceases once the building is not used for worship, and Local Authority controls will then apply.
The Patrimony Committee of the Bishops Conference for England and Wales provides guidance on new church buildings and repairs and alterations to listed and unlisted churches. The Patrimony Committee has given specific guidance on the operation of Historic Churches Committees.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has issued operational guidance on ecclesiastical exemption. Historic England has very detailed guidance on New Work in Historic Places of Worship.
Each Diocese also provides its own guidance for churches in its area.
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