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Eastry verdict: church is given five years to restore metal roof

07 December 2012

THE Commissary Court of the diocese of Canterbury granted a confirmatory faculty, subject to conditions, for the replacement of stolen lead with an artificial non-metal roofing material known as Ubiflex, and for the further stripping of remaining lead and replacement with Ubiflex, on the roof of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, in Eastry, Kent ( News, 5 and 12 October). The church must, however, make plans for re-roofing using metal. The building is Grade I listed, and there had been "an epidemic of lead thefts".

Some time in 2008 or 2009, four bays of lead were stolen from the north aisle of the church. The parish replaced them with lead, and received full settlement from Ecclesiastical Insurance. On the night of 4 June last year, lead from the roof was stolen again, and it then rained heavily. A churchwarden who was the first to arrive at the church on 5 June found water pouring through the south aisle roof. In the afternoon, it was discovered that the north aisle roof was leaking, too. Emergency measures were taken to cover the roof with tarpaulin, and to protect the organ.

Water damage had occurred inside the church, however, causing damage to plaster in the north and south aisles. Ecclesiastical Insurance advised the parish that, because St Mary's had suffered the previous theft of lead, the maximum that it could claim would be £5000 in respect of metal loss, and £5000 in respect of collateral damage.

An emergency procedure had to be followed for the stripped roof to be speedily re-covered. The building contractor suggested to the fabric committee that, as an alternative to lead, Ubiflex roofing, which had no value to thieves, be used. A PCC meeting took place on 6 June, and the Revd Canon Mark Roberts, who was temporary Priest-in-Charge of the parish, stated that "the parishioners were in a state of anguish and shock," and it was decided that the "fabric committee should act quickly on behalf of the PCC".

Bad weather continued in June, and there were problems with the tarpaulin; so there was further water penetration inside the church through both the north- and south-aisle roofs. There was no tender process, but, in view of the urgency of the situation and the likelihood of further water damage, on 22 June the fabric committee made a contract for the work to be done using Ubiflex, at a total cost of approximately £95,000. The Dover District Council had no objection to the use of alternative roofing, and the DAC was also informed.

On the night of 8 July, there was a further theft of lead from the roof of the north aisle. There was also evidence that lead on the north aisle had been cut and left in a prepared state by the thieves. It was felt that to leave any lead on the aisle roofs would leave the church vulnerable to further theft, and consequently further internal damage. The fabric committee decided to ask the builder to remove the remaining lead, and install Ubiflex roofing. The builders commenced work on the roof on 11 July 2011, and completed it within the stipulated 30 days.

The Archdeacon of Canterbury has a general faculty, issued by the Commissary Court, to permit the incumbent and churchwardens of churches that have suffered the theft of lead or other metals from their buildings, to replace the metal on a like-to-like basis, or with an appropriate substitute material approved by the DAC, without the need for a further faculty.

Because, however, the work had been carried out in advance of the Archdeacon's issuing a letter of authority, and because the project involved the removal of lead that had not been stolen, the PCC needed to apply for a retrospective faculty from the Commissary General, and to explain why approval was not obtained before the work commenced. The application for a faculty was made in January this year.

The Commissary General, Morag Ellis QC, said that she had concluded that the proposals would result in harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The next questions were how serious the harm would be, and how clear and convincing the justification was for carrying out the proposals.

The baseline for consideration of the faculty petition was the desecrated and damaged state in which the building was left by the thieves after the two attacks. The justification for putting the church into a weatherproof state was compelling, the Commissary General said, and the PCC and the fabric committee were rightly concerned to protect the treasures of the church, and to maintain the use of the church for public worship.

There was, however, no justification for the way they went about doing this, the Commissary General said. Their reaction to the prospect of further thefts was not a justification, although it helped to explain their mindset.

Permitting the roof covering to remain for a limited period would result in public benefits, the Commissary General ruled. It would enable the building and its contents to continue to be protected from the elements, and permit the continued use of the church. A moratorium would "facilitate the proper exploration of alternatives in a calm, considered, and prayerful fashion, with the benefit of expert advice and consultation with the relevant church and secular partners.

"This church community has suffered a major blow to its self-confidence," the Commissary General said. "An essential part of the Christian gospel is the conviction that when people have made mistakes and gone wrong, they can seek and receive God's forgiveness." As a Christian

Church, we believe that the proclamation of that message in word and deed is of immense public benefit, she said.

A faculty, limited to a period of five years, was granted for the replacement of lead, stolen on 5 June and 9 July, with Ubiflex. There are to be six-monthly inspections by a duly appointed architect, and the amenity societies or the DAC may, on giving reasonable notice to the churchwardens, inspect the church at any time.

The Archdeacon and churchwardens must, within three months, obtain initial proposals and cost estimates from at least two suitably qualified architects or surveyors for the reroofing of the south and north aisles in either lead or a suitable long-term sheet metal; and the churchwardens must establish a designated restoration fund.


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