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Ecclesiastical Exemption

The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 provides that places of worship used for ecclesiastical purposes can be exempt from having to obtain certain consents. The following denominations, known as the exempt denominations, are currently able to take advantage of the exemption:

Exterior of building from High St.
United Reformed Church, High St, Wellingborough © Historic England

In order for a religious body to become ‘exempt’, it must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that those systems and procedures it has in place provide equally stringent levels of control to those of the secular heritage protection system. Information on how each denomination meets this requirement is provided on their websites.

The exempt denominations internal control system should embody the principles set out in Government guidance.  The processes need to be open and transparent and provide similar levels of consultation and engagement with local communities, local planning authorities, Historic England and the National Amenity Societies as operate under the provisions of the rest of the heritage planning regime.

For all other denominations and faiths, work to their buildings require listed building consent (where relevant) from the local planning authority in exactly the same way as similar works to secular buildings.

Ecclesiastical buildings and ecclesiastical purposes

The expression 'ecclesiastical building' is not expressly defined in the Act, although it is explicit that the term does not include premises “used or available for use by a minister of religion wholly or mainly as residence from which to perform the duties of his office”.

The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 makes it clear that the expression extends to church buildings, their contents and anything fixed thereto as well as to anything situated within the curtilage of a church building.

Similarly the expression 'ecclesiastical purposes' is undefined in the Act but has been held to include community activities or public benefits in addition to worship.

Where the exemption applies the practical effect is that listed building consent is not required for the alteration or extension of a listed ecclesiastical building of any denomination provided that the building is used for ecclesiastical purposes both before and after the works. 

In the case of the partial demolition of an ecclesiastical building it would also seem that consent is not required, provided that the remainder of the building following the works continues to be used for ecclesiastical purposes.

Non-exempt denominations and faiths

All denominations and faiths that are not exempt by virtue of The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 should seek listed building consent or conservation area consent from their local planning authority to carry out works to a listed church or an unlisted church within a conservation area.

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