Council ordered to repair churchyard

02 November 2006

The Forest of Dean District Council has, after a prolonged dispute, been ordered by Gloucester County Court to carry out an agreed schedule of works of maintenance to the churchyard of the Church of the Holy Jesus at Lydbrook. The order requires the work to be finished within 12 months and the District Council to pay Lydbrook PCC's costs of about £16,000.

The churchyard was closed for burials by Order in Council on 1 March 1972, and under the terms of section 215 of the Local Government Act 1972 the Forest of Dean District Council became responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. The PCC alleged that since then very little had been done by the council other than cutting the grass very infrequently.

In 1999, the PCC wrote to the council's legal department drawing attention to the unacceptable condition of the churchyard, and received a reply with a schedule of work which the council intended to carry out. Nothing was done, however, and in 2001 the Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Ven. Geoffrey Siddaway, became involved. 

He visited the churchyard in March 2001 and was "shocked" at its state. The Archdeacon wrote expressing his concern to the council's director of planning and leisure services, and asking when the PCC could expect to see some of the work in the schedule done. When the Archdeacon visited the churchyard in February 2003 there was no discernible improvement, and the presence of rising damp in the vestry was even more pronounced.

The PCC was able to instigate litigation as a result of the support it received from the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group under the terms of its annual policy. The PCC sought a court order requiring the council to carry out the works set out in the schedule and claimed that the failure to provide a new land drain meant that damp was penetrating the vestry.

The District Council unsuccessfully disputed the claim and also challenged the PCC's right to bring the action. But District Judge Thomas ruled that the "PCC [was] clearly the correct body to bring the proceedings". After several further court hearings, the works to be carried out by the council were confirmed.

They included remedial work to retaining walls, resetting loose and leaning crosses and headstones, providing a new land drain, removing soil which had been contaminated with broken glass, and providing a hard surface for the main paths.

A churchwarden, Brian Morgan, said that the PCC very much regretted the need for legal proceedings, "the more so given the fact that the £16,000 which the District Council has been ordered to pay in costs has done nothing to improve the churchyard".

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