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When do building works need a faculty?

04 June 2008

As a new churchwarden, I have a question about our building works: which of them will need faculty permission, and which of them can go ahead without it?

YOUR best adviser will be your archdeacon, or the secretary of the diocesan advisory committee (DAC), but I am happy to share the results of my experience.


Some readers may not be aware that faculty permission is required for all listed churches when work is to take place. It is a means of protecting the national heritage, and works in direct parallel with the secular system of listed-building consent. It applies to all the main denominations.


Faculty permission is not required, however, for regular maintenance. By this I mean such things as clearing gutters, rodding downpipes, cleaning drains, excising weeds, repairing broken panes of glass or slipped slates (using like with like), and other straightforward tasks.


You are allowed to pollard your trees, but you must not remove or plant trees, or rebuild boundary walls, without the permission of the archdeacon. When a task — even a maintenance one — turns into a larger issue involving several thousand pounds, you should certainly check with the archdeacon. You can, of course, service the utilities and fire systems without faculty.


All repairs, except very minor ones, are subject to faculty, even when the work is direct replacement of a damaged item. This applies to stone repair, new drains or downpipes, taking a window out for repair, and so on.


When such tasks are undertaken, there are always minor associated issues that have an impact on the heritage building. One example is the kind of mortar: should the damaging cementitious mortar that is already on the walls be reused, or should there be a return to the earlier lime mortar? Your faculty will guide you.


All new works in a listed building must gain faculty before they can go ahead. Allow plenty of time for discussion about new works, as they are nearly always contentious. DAC members are appointed for their skills with heritage buildings and materials; they may not always be skilled in envisaging new works and how they might fit well with the old.


Allow time to come to a common mind, and be prepared to say how your designs for the new are truly fitting and enhancing for the old. Several times, over the years, I have seen designs for new additions which would move or replace ancient arches, walls, or other features, when a simple rethink over design could make this unnecessary.


To help churches to plan wisely, they are encouraged to work with an appropriately experienced conservation architect, and to prepare a statement of significance which identifies the importance of the building and its features and fittings. Then, if you do decide you need to move an ancient feature, or cut through a wall, you will have considered all possible alternatives and also the significance of what you are doing.


In addition, when undertaking works on the outside of, or near to, a listed building, you will need listed-building consent from the local authority. Some works, and some kinds of new building or new uses will also need planning consent, but your architect or your archdeacon can advise you on this.


So, just when the new churchwardens are all fired up and ready to go, things seem to hit the buffers because of all the people you have to ask first. But remember: most of us have never had to care for a listed building before, and when becoming churchwardens we may not have realised that that was in the job description. It is important to the church of the future that we do the best we can on our watch.


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