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Court rules on use of alternatives for lead roofs

10 October 2014

national churches trust

New roof: Holy Trinity Penton Mewsey, in Hampshire, recipient of a National Churches Trust grant

New roof: Holy Trinity Penton Mewsey, in Hampshire, recipient of a National Churches Trust grant

INSURANCE considerations should not be determinative of what was appropriate for a church building, the Chancellor of the diocese of Coventry, Stephen Eyre, ruled when considering a petition for the replacement of lead roofing with a Dryseal Glass Reinforced Polyester (GRP) roofing system at All Saints', Leamington Hastings.

The medieval Grade II* listed church is in the centre of a small country village, but it is some distance from the nearest property, and its south side faces away from the village. Consequently, it has been vulnerable to attacks on the hidden south side. In November 2009, an arson attack resulted in a fire on the roof of the south aisle, which affected a large part of the church and destroyed the organ.

The roof was repaired in lead, the damage repaired, and the organ replaced. In August 2013, there were two instances of the theft of lead from the roof of the south aisle, and a further attempt to steal the remaining lead. The removal of the roofing by those thefts caused water ingress immediately above the new organ, which was rendered unusable, and had to be repaired at a cost of £25,000. In addition, silver was stolen from inside the church.

A temporary polythene covering was fitted to the south-aisle roof immediately after the lead thefts, but despite that there had been some water ingress. At the request of the PCC, the Chancellor authorised the removal of the remaining lead from the roof, and its replacement by a more substantial temporary covering.

The church architect recommended that any temporary covering should provide protection at least as robust as that of a three-thickness elastomeric roofing felt. The PCC investigated the cost of such a covering, and found that it would be the same as the GRP covering that it wished to install permanently. It therefore installed a GRP covering, relying on the authorisation given for a temporary covering, but conscious that the final decision of the Consistory Court might require a different covering.

The GRP installation was completed in April 2014, but by that time there was a difference of view between, on the one hand, the petitioners - who were the Priest-in-Charge, the churchwardens, and the PCC - and, on the other hand, the DAC, English Heritage, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, who contended that the replacement roof should be made of terne-coated steel, because it best imitated the effect and appearance of lead. Everyone was agreed that it was not appropriate for the roof to be recovered in lead.

The petitioners' principal reason for using GRP rather than terne-coated steel was that the insurers, the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, said that if a metallic roof of any kind was installed on the south aisle it would provide insurance cover only up to £5000, including consequential loss, although that would be increased to £10,000 if a suitable alarm was fitted.

That would not be adequate insurance cover, since the value of the items in the south aisle, particularly the organ, greatly exceed that sum.

Moreover, although stainless steel did not have the same value as lead, it did have a resale value; so a roof of such material would be at risk of theft, and could result in damage to the roof, with consequent water ingress. The DAC had advised that the GRP roof would not adversely affect the church's special character.

The Chancellor said that terne-coated steel would normally be preferable to GRP, even if the roof in question would not be readily visible. The approach of the insurers was not a justification for using material that would otherwise be inappropriate. It would not render suitable a material which would otherwise not be suitable.

The insurance position, regrettable though it was, could not be a justification for the use of GRP to roof the south aisle, the Chancellor said, when the balance of other factors was so strongly against GRP and in favour of terne-coated steel. The long-term solution must be a roof of terne-coated steel or some equivalent metallic material.

The Chancellor authorised the retention of the GRP covering that was in place until 1 September 2024, by which time it must be replaced by a roof made of terne-coated steel or an equivalent metallic material.

The insurance position was, nevertheless, "by no means entirely irrelevant, and [was] a justification, particularly given the special history of this church, for allowing a breathing space while all concerned can take stock", the Chancellor said. The lengthy period would also enable further discussions to take place with insurers.

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