Closed Churches Uses Committee
A consecrated church belonging to the Church of England may be formally closed under the provisions of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 because it is no longer required for regular worship. The notes which follow are intended as a guide to what happens thereafter.
When a church is formally closed regular public worship ceases. The building and its contents then vest in (i.e. become the property of) the Diocesan Board of Finance (the DBF). The Board assumes responsibility for reasonable care and maintenance; the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council comes to an end, although the PCC remains responsible for the upkeep of any churchyard or burial ground unless or until this is disposed of with the building or site (and unless an agreement exists with a local authority under the Open Spaces Act .
The search for an alternative use for the building now begins. There is in the diocese a Closed Churches Uses Committee whose sole function is to seek alternative uses for redundant church buildings. This Committee explores all possibilities through its secretariat at the Diocesan Office and through its land agent. In the meantime, the Church Commissioners consult the Statutory Advisory Committee of the CBC for information and advice on the historic and archaeological interest and architectural quality of the redundant church. When an alternative use is found, the diocese will send details to the Church Commissioners who, if they approve, (and they will again seek the advice of the Statutory Advisory Committee of the CBC) then prepare a redundancy scheme to authorise the disposal of the property for the suggested purpose. The scheme will be published in draft to give an opportunity for anyone to make representations to the Commissioners within a 28 day period, and if none are received, the scheme is sealed by the Commissioners and submitted to the Privy Council for confirmation. If any objections are received, the Commissioners may either accept or overrule them. There is no right of appeal to the Privy Council against the Commissioners decision.
Under the provisions of the Mission and Pastoral Measure, a redundancy scheme may not be prepared until six months have elapsed after the formal closure, but a scheme should normally be prepared within three years of that declaration. This period is known as the use-seeking period.
A redundancy scheme may provide for one of the following four options: Appropriate to a suitable alternative use. This might be almost anything: churches have been used for community purposes, worship by other Christian groups, private houses, sheltered housing, workshops, shops, offices, museums, theatres, auction rooms etc. A few proposed uses would be considered inappropriate licenced premises, gambling establishments and any broadly immoral purpose. Vesting in the Churches Conservation Trust for preservation in the interests of the nation. This course of action would normally only be followed if no suitable use could be found for a building and if the Statutory Advisory Committee of the CBC considered that the architectural quality and historical/archaeological interest of the church were sufficiently high. The funds available to the Trust are extremely limited, and they are at present in a position only to accept buildings of exceptional merit. Remain vested in the DBF as a ruin or controlled ruin. The choice between these four options is not a free one. Alternative use must normally be considered first, and, as stated above, a church may only be vested in the Trust if no acceptable alternative use can be found. Controlled ruination or demolition may only be considered if a church is judged to be below the acceptable standard for vesting.
The redundancy scheme would empower the Board of Finance to either sell, lease, or give away the building or site as appropriate to the circumstances of the alternative use.
If any sale proceeds result from the disposal of a redundant church, two thirds of the net amount (ie after payment of any fees, charges etc) go to the diocese and one third is retained by the Church Commissioners. The Commissioners use their portion to contribute towards the costs of the Churches Conservation Trust; the diocese uses its portion to make grants and loans for the repair of church buildings in the diocese. During the use-seeking period, the Board of Finance may without obtaining a faculty transfer the contents of the closed building temporarily to another place for safe keeping or, with faculty, dispose of them.
Planning and Listed Building Consent.
Local planning authorities do not exercise the usual listed building controls over churches in use (ecclesiastical exemption). However, listed building consent is required for works of alteration or extension to listed redundant churches. Planning permission is usually required for change of use. In other words, any proposals for an alternative use must satisfy the planners as well as the Statutory Advisory Committee of the CBC. Listed building consent is not required for the total or partial demolition of a redundant church provided that the demolition is carried out in pursuance of a scheme made under the Pastoral Measure.
If you have any queries regarding closed churches matters please contact the CCUC Secretary, Mr Bill Heslop at Cuthbert House, Stonebridge. DURHAM. DH1 3RY Telephone: 01388 660001 E-mail: Churches@durham.anglican.org