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Osborne fund hits the roofs

05 December 2014

PA

A £15-MILLION repair fund for listed churches suffering from leaking roofs and gutters has been set up by the Government.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, (above) announced the new fund during his Autumn Statement in Parliament on Wednesday. Grants for between £10,000 and £100,000 will be available for urgent repairs to roofs and parts of buildings that deal with rainwater from March next year.

The Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund will be open to any place of worship of any faith as long as it is listed, and will be run by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Applications must be filed by 30 January 2015.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, who is the lead bishop for the Church of England's church buildings, said that he was "delighted" the fund had been set up shortly after English Heritage added 850 churches to its Heritage At Risk register.

"This will make a real and lasting difference to parishes that are awarded grants. It will keep these important buildings warm and secure, allowing them to remain open and welcoming for both worship and wider community use."

The money is in addition to the £20-million fund announced by Mr Osborne in March for repairs to cathedrals (News, 21 March). The first £4.7-million tranche of that money, given to 18 C of E and four Roman Catholic cathedrals, was announced in August (News, 8 August).

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, said that the Fund proved that the Government appreciated what churches contributed to the nation. "England's parish churches are as much a part of the English landscape as the hedgerow or the oak tree.

"All parish churches need to have decent roofs and serviceable guttering. These are unromantic but essential. They are often expensive, and it is very welcome news that the Government is providing £15 million for funding."

The director of ChurchCare, Janet Gough, said that it would work with parishes that wanted to apply for grants.

Other measures announced in the Autumn Statement included reforms to stamp duty to cut the tax most people pay when buying a home, and a two-year freeze of working-age benefits

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on Mr Osborne's Statement on Thursday, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, said that tax cuts for stamp duty, ISAs, air passenger duty, and the feezing of fuel duty would be warmly welcomed by those who have struggled under austerity.

"The Chancellor's confidence that we 'stay on course to prosperity' is not yet the personal experience of many known to me and to the parishes and clergy in my diocese," he said. 

"The dignity of work - with the capacity to provide for a family and save for the uncertainties of the future - and the ambition of home ownership remain beyond many."

Bishop Foster also said that he was grateful for the £15 million church roof repairs fund as churches were a "tangible link with our past and very often a focus of local identity".

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