Exempt Religious Denominations

The following religious groups or denominations in England are exempt from certain requirements of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (ref. 1) in relation to ecclesiastical buildings in ecclesiastical use where those buildings are listed buildings or unlisted buildings within conservation areas:

  1. The Church of England
  2. The Roman Catholic Church
  3. The Methodist Church
  4. The Baptist Union of Great Britain/Baptist Union of Wales 
  5. The United Reformed Church  

The Ecclesiastical Exemption Order (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas)(England) 2010 (ref. 2) only applies to those denominations above. Relevant works proposed by all other denominations and faiths require listed building consent and planning permission for relevant demolition in conservation areas in exactly the same way as the equivalent works to secular buildings.

The exemption once applied to all ecclesiastical buildings for the time being in use for ecclesiastical purposes, but concerns over the damage being done to important ecclesiastical heritage led to its curtailment firstly by court judgments and eventually, in 1994, by legislation.

The exemption was retained by these five denominations because they had, or were willing to put in place, a system of control for works to their ecclesiastical buildings which met the conditions laid down by the government in a code of practice (ref. 3).

According to the code of practice, the internal procedures for exempt denominations should be as stringent as the procedures required under the secular heritage protection system. In particular, the exempt systems have to provide similar levels of consultation (ref. 3). These requirements are met in different ways by the different exempt denominations. 

In each denomination the members of the advisory/decision-making bodies will, between them, have expert knowledge of the history, development and use of church buildings, the liturgy of the denomination, church architecture and conservation of historic buildings and their contents.

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport retains the power to withdraw the exemption from a denomination, part of a denomination (a particular diocese for instance) or a single building and the power to extend the exemption to another denomination.

What follows is a description of the system maintained by each denomination that justifies its exemption.

Church of England

There are two main categories of qualifying buildings in the Church of England and hence two systems of control. In both systems the Church’s own controls extend further than the limits of the exemption.

a) Buildings subject to the Care of Cathedrals Measures 2011 (ref. 4)

In order to implement certain proposals affecting a cathedral, its contents or surroundings, which come within the scope of the Measure, approval must be obtained from the cathedral’s own Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) and/or from the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE).

Each Church of England cathedral has its own FAC to advise the Dean and Chapter and to approve certain works under the Measure. The FAC determines applications for all proposals covered by the Measure, unless:

  1. They fall within a category specifically reserved to the CFCE (see below); or,
  2. The CFCE exercises its powers of call-in on the grounds that a proposal raises considerations of such special interest that the application needs to be determined at a national level.

The categories of application that the CFCE must always determine are:

  1. Demolition or permanent alteration of the fabric and any part of a cathedral church or certain of its ancillary buildings;
  2. Disturbance or destruction of any archaeological remains within the cathedral precinct (including below ground remains and standing fabric);

b) Buildings subject to the Faculty Jurisdiction

Each diocese has a Chancellor (an ecclesiastical judge) who is the decision-maker in the system. The Chancellor will normally require the advice of the DAC, and statutory consultees where exempt works are concerned, in determining a case. Where a case involves minor changes, repairs or maintenance and where the grant of a faculty is unopposed, determination may be delegated to the archdeacon. 

Where there are objections to the grant of a faculty, there will normally be a public hearing before the Consistory Court (the ecclesiastical court of the diocese), either as a public hearing or through written representations. An appeal against a Chancellor’s decision can be made by any party in the case to the Court of Arches (for cases in the Province of Canterbury) or the Chancery Court of York (for cases in the Province of York). 

More about the operation of the faculty jurisdiction.

Roman Catholic Church

In order to undertake works to a Catholic church or cathedral the authority of a faculty granted on behalf of a diocesan bishop is required. Although the term ‘faculty’ is used, Catholic churches are not subject to the faculty legislation which applies to the Church of England. Decisions are taken by the relevant local Historic Churches Committee (HCC).

Some dioceses have their own HCC but others operate a committee in conjunction with neighbouring dioceses. The secretary of the HCC will carry out consultation with the usual consultees for a listed building consent or consent for relevant demolition in conservation area, as appropriate. Appeals are made to the relevant bishop who will not normally hear the appeal himself but establish a commission of three people to hear it on his behalf. The decision of the commission is final. The operation of the exemption in the Catholic Church is overseen by the Patrimony Committee of the Bishops Conference.

Methodist Church

The system of control over works that come within the exemption is centrally organised by the Property Office in Manchester. The Connexionel conservation officer manages the system and also organises consultation with consultees and issues on approved report.

Once there has been a conservation authorisation, the consent giving body will review the project and then give the final consent.

Baptist Union

Proposed works must first be approved in principle by the Trust Corporation who are the trustees for the church. If the proposals are approved they can go forward to the central Listed Building Advisory Committee (LBAC) in Didcot. The Trust Corporation will send proposals to the statutory consultees and ask them to send comments to the LBAC. The LBAC is in practice the decision-making body in the system. If it approves an application, it will issue a Certificate of Authorisation which must be countersigned by the Trust Corporation, before the local congregation can go ahead with the work. The LBAC is appointed by, and accountable to, the Legal Committee of the Baptist Union. Any appeal against an LBAC decision is made to the Legal Committee which will appoint an independent adjudicator to hear the appeal.

United Reformed Church

Unlike the other nonconformist denominations, the URC system of control is operated regionally. Each of the provincial Synods has its own Property Committee that makes decisions on applications for consent. Each Property Committee is advised by its Synod’s Listed Building Advisory Committee (LBAC). Applicants should consult and obtain the endorsement of their URC District Council before going to the LBAC.

The LBAC organises consultation with consultees. If the committee does not support the application it will give the applicant an opportunity to amend the application before it goes to the Property Committee.

Appeals against decisions of the Property Committee are dealt with firstly by informal negotiations and only if that is inconclusive will a formal appeal go to the Appeals Commission, appointed by the General Assembly of the URC.