5.5 Permissions – Historic Buildings
There are various levels of permission that the typical church building project will need to satisfy in order for the project to proceed. This chapter deals with permissions for existing church buildings – if you are contemplating a new building, see section 5.4.
There are 3 basic questions which determine the permissions you will need:
1. Who Owns The Building?
Most Church of England churches are actually owned by the vicar or rector – both church and churchyard are part of the ‘living’ of the parish. However any alterations require permission (a Faculty) from the Chancellor of the Diocese who is advised by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), a body which includes the archdeacons and professional representatives. On the other hand a church hall will often be owned by the parish itself, so work to that would not need a Faculty – but always check with the Diocese first.
Non-Anglican churches are often owned by the local congregation. Other churches may occupy a building that is leased from a separate trust or other party, who as freeholder would of course need to give their permission to any changes.
In every case, you should clarify ownership, and any covenants, at the outset!
2. Does The Project Involve External Changes?
If so, a planning application is required to your Local Authority. Note that external changes include extensions (regardless of where on the site) and even minor eternal changes such as turning a window into a door. There are no ‘permitted development rights’ on a church as there would be on your home, which would enable you to extend in various ways without planning permission. That said, different Local Authorities deal with these sort of applications quite differently, so if in doubt, ask. If you are adding photovoltaic panels to your church or hall this also requires a planning application.
Note that these permissions from the Local Authority are in addition to whatever permissions you need from your church authorities.
3. Is The Building Listed, And If So To What Grade?
If Yes, then Listed Building Consent will also be required. The ‘established’ denominations (Church of England, Roman Catholic, Baptist Union, Methodist and URC) enjoy what is called ‘Ecclesiastical Exemption’ which means that these denominations deal with Listed Building issues to the interior of the building themselves. Each denomination deals with this process differently; for Anglicans it is administered through the Diocesan Advisory Committees, for Baptists through the Baptist Union Listed Building Advisory Committee, etc. For churches outside the five denominations mentioned, and where the proposals involve external changes of any kind, the Local Authority Conservation Department will need to give Listed Building Consent.
There are 3 levels of listing – in ascending order, Grades 2, 2* and 1. If the building is Grade 2* or Grade 1 listed then English Heritage must also be consulted – they have a network of regional casework officers who come out to visit.
There are also a number of Amenity Societies, including the Victorian Society, The Georgian Society, The Twentieth Century Society, and The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. If your building has features that are likely to be of interest to one or more of these societies, it is wise to contact them and invite their comment. Their views are not binding, and you’re not obliged to agree with them, but you will be expected to have sought those views and listened to them.
Learn To Love Your DAC/BULBAC Etc:
Generally these folk are (or should be) sympathetic to your aims, provided you can demonstrate that you have thought them through. They may well push you to consider how your theology relates to the changes you are proposing, which is good and important work to do. The general consensus is that the systems operated under Ecclesiastical Exemption are much preferable to the secular equivalents. It is important to begin discussions with them at an early stage – they have a lot of expertise they can add to the process.
Like any other buildings, churches need to satisfy the Building Regulations, which deal with thermal performance, structural design, means of escape, disability access etc; this involves an application to either the Local Authority or an Approved Inspector, which is a private alternative. One area of leniency for existing church buildings is in heating and insulation, though we firmly believe we should be striving to improve the thermal performance of existing fabric where possible and appropriate.
If you are planning any form of serious catering, then you will need to keep the Local Authority Environmental Health Officer (EHO) happy. Churches often fall somewhere between a fully fledged commercial catering operation, and the sort of catering we do at home. It is worth talking early to the EHO to prevent expensive surprises later in the process. In particular, mechanical ventilation of kitchens can be huge and cumbersome to incorporate, particularly if you plan cooking on gas.
Depending on how you intend to use your buildings, you may also need a public entertainments licence – again worth checking with your Local Authority as to whether this is needed and when it needs to be applied for.
Lastly, if you happen to be in a post-war New Town such as Milton Keynes, or an earlier generation of planned settlement such as Welwyn Garden City, there may be additional controls on development, and therefore permissions to be sought. Again, your Local Authority can advise.