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Time to listen

03 May 2013

We have had preliminary consultative visits from the DAC, and have sent in our detailed project. Now, various organisations have been consulted, each of which has come back with pernickety details. If we had not spent so much time and effort getting the details sorted, I might be able to tolerate them more.

THE process of gaining faculty approval is a bit of a maze. To ensure that we do not mess up listed churches, we have to gain the approval of various agencies whose function it is to look at the wider picture. Most of those agencies realise that church buildings have to change or risk closure; so each may be looking for the least damaging - from their point of view - way of achieving the essential changes.

The process begins with an application by the church to the DAC; a preliminary visit early in your development may simplify the later progress. The formal application to the DAC includes detailed plans of your works, Statements of Significance and Need, and an estimate of the cost of the works. Check your diocesan website for any further requirements.

Your architect is advised to send a similar package of material to the main consultees: English Heritage, the Georgian/Victorian/Twentieth Century Society, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and, if necessary, others. In the next faculty step, these consultations are required, but early responses can be addressed by your architect, along with DAC comments.

The revised package is sent by the incumbent and churchwardens to the Diocesan Registrar, together with an approving resolution from the PCC. A public notice about the works is displayed in the church, and outside, for 28 days, to allow local people to object if they wish. (This can be done in parallel with submission to the Registrar and Chancellor). Then the Chancellor decides whether to approve the faculty.

The devil will be in the detail. If you have had past grants from English Heritage, it may want to "approve" any future works to the church. In addition, English Heritage must be consulted on any works that may change the building, even in small details. Normally, a visit is made, as for the other consultees, but with like-for-like repairs this may not happen.

From the church's point of view, you will feel powerless in the midst of a flurry of opinions and comments from various quarters. Some of these will require changes to the detail of your plans; others will disappear.

It is disconcerting to have your hard work overwhelmed by all kinds of comments, but here are a few tips. Listen hard when consultees visit, and, if you do need to explain why you chose a particular design option, never be confrontational. These are experts who are there to understand both the need for change, and the significance of the building, and to help you to find a way through the issues. They are not there to stand in your way obstructively or needlessly.

Let everyone make comments, including the DAC, and then have a meeting with your architect to sort out what changes must be made to your plans in order to progress further with a submission to the Registrar and Chancellor. You may not have to adapt to all objections; use your architect's experience to guide you.

Most dioceses have guidance on their websites; most archdeacons can be very helpful; most DAC secretaries advise on the basis of a great deal of good experience.

Your questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.
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