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Quinquennial inspections of churches

15 July 2016

THE Synod discussed quinquennial inspections when it gave first consideration to the Draft Inspection of Churches Measure on Saturday morning.

Introducing the debate, the Vicar-General of Canterbury, Chancellor Timothy Briden, said that church buildings were in a “better state of basic repair than they have been for many centuries”, thanks to the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955, which established a system of quinquennial inspections by an architect or surveyor.

Their reports had enabled parishes to embark on a “planned programme of maintenance and repair with savings in time, expense, and effort”. He also praised the “streamlining” achieved by the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, which meant that a faculty was no longer required for works of routine maintenance.

But, while the objective of the 1955 Measure “remains sound”, after 60 years some procedural aspects were now “deficient”. He set out three matters of concern.

First, the requirements for diocesan synods to produce their own schemes for administration of the system led to duplication of effort and inconsistencies. Second, diocesan schemes struggled to match the modern tendering requirements of grant-making bodies. Third, great advances in conservation practice, including the introduction of specialist accreditation schemes for professionals, meant that it was anachronistic for dioceses to set their own benchmarks.

Architects could be approved in one diocese but excluded in the next. “They demonstrate that the time has come for arrangements to be made at a national level.” The plan was for the Church Buildings Division to formulate a single overarching scheme. A single set of regulations would be made by the Archbishops’ Council, subject to the Synod’s approval.

Keith Cawdron (Liverpool) was wary of anything that transferred functions from the dioceses to the centre, which “runs contrary to subsidiarity”, or introduced regulations where they did not currently have them, “which runs contrary to simplification”. He believed that this change would do both.

The current law seemed to reflect the fact that the Synod’s predecessors were “already aware of the need for simplification and subsidiarity, and produced something enabling and moderate. So why are we pressed to reverse that and embark on actions where there should be strong presumption against change?”

All that was needed, he suggested, was two lines stating that the Archbishops’ Council might issue guidance on the carrying out by dioceses of this Measure. This would not require legislation.

The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, spoke in support of the Measure, which “complies entirely with the ideas behind the simplification proposals”. But he suggested that reference to ruins or trees in churchyards be removed, and that the Channel Islands and Isle of Mann be included.

Deborah McIsaac (Salisbury) asked the Synod to resist the Measure. If churches were in better shape, it was “because local responsibility is there and has been taken”. The assistance of the Church Buildings Council was “great”. There were good reasons why architects might be approved by one diocese but not the next, and there was some danger in setting up a central register for architects. It could deter an already scarce number from involvement. The current system had worked for the past 60 years, “and I think it will continue to work”.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) called for the Measure to refer to church buildings rather than churches. The latter were “groups of Christians working together in mission, and some meet in buildings”.

The Revd Peter Kay (St Albans) spoke as a member of the Church Buildings Council. “What we are voting for is a general principle of simplification: do we support it or not?”

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffield) would be pleased to have the guidelines. Buildings had been “the bane of my life. . . I am not called to be a builder or architect, and frankly that is what it feels like at the moment.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury was “slightly cautious” about the draft Measure. He shared the instinct of an earlier speaker “about the principle that things should be done at a diocesan level, unless they really have to be done nationally”. He had “not heard much that convinces me of the necessity of this Measure, and that it will significantly improve something that is not working”.

The Vicar-General of Canterbury had said that it was “one of the most outstandingly successful bits of legislation that we have”. He suggested that there was “nothing particularly wrong with inconsistency between different areas of the country”, as problems in different dioceses were different.

“I think we need a very good reason for setting a series of national guidelines rather than relying on the dioceses to use their sense and their local knowledge in their local area.”

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Peter Broadbent, agreed with the Archbishop, and questioned whether it was the “right moment” for the Measure.

The debate was adjourned.

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