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Faster broadband a boon, says court

31 March 2017


Improved service: St Peter and St Paul, Heydon

Improved service: St Peter and St Paul, Heydon

THERE are benefits to the community and to the mission of the Church from the provision of faster broadband, the Consistory Court of the diocese of Norwich stated when granting a faculty for the installation of wireless broadband equipment in the tower of St Peter and St Paul, a Grade I listed church in Heydon. The village, like many rural communities, has poor broadband speeds.

The petitioners for the faculty were the Team Vicar, the Revd Andrew Whitehead, and the fabric officer of the parish, Charles Shippam. The equipment was intended to be installed by WiSpire Ltd, a company that has significant experience in providing such installations within church towers in Norfolk.

The proposed installation included the erection of transmitting and receiving equipment on a scaffolding frame on the roof of the tower, the placing of an IT cabinet in the silence chamber of the tower, and the fixing of associated network and power cabling which lined the equipment to the electrical fuse board inside the church.

The DAC, which had to ensure that the works were undertaken in a safe and historically sympathetic way, formed the view that the proposed works were not likely to affect the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The Chancellor, the Worshipful Ruth Arlow, agreed with that assessment.

The proposals caused discontent locally when public notices were displayed at the church and on the village notice-board. The PCC initially voted against the proposals, but, on 29 June last year, it voted by a majority of seven to two to pursue the project.

The two PCC members who voted against the proposals, Mary Anne Shippam and Evelina Ashbee, became parties opponent to the faculty. They said that the installation would be unsightly; a certain amount of damage would be caused to the historic fabric of this Grade I listed building; and there would be no benefit to the church.

They also said that the PCC votes on the issue should be treated with caution, and that the votes of PCC members who lived outside the parish should hold less weight by virtue of that fact.

In response to the objectors, the Chancellor made it clear that the vote of each PCC member was of equal value, and that, whether the voter in question was the churchwarden, a resident in the village, or even the incumbent, was irrelevant. The PCC as a largely democratic body had decided to pursue the faculty application.

Although the church building was listed and therefore of significance locally and nationally, the Chancellor said, the proposals would have limited impact on the fabric of the building: essentially, just the fixing of cable runs. The aesthetic impact was equally limited.

There was also a clear missional advantage to the church from being at the heart of the village’s communications, and seeking to serve the rural community in which it lived. The availability of faster broadband in rural communities provided “not only financial benefits to the local economy by supporting local businesses, but also provided much less measurable but equally — or arguably more — important benefits to individuals in that community . . . in their daily life, and, for the vulnerable, may help them to feel less isolated”, the Chancellor said.

WiSpire had confirmed that the installation was unlikely to be a permanent feature of this church, and that Heydon had been classified as an area where faster broadband would eventually be available. That meant, WiSpire said, that the equipment would be installed “in the expectation that the installation is likely to be removed in the longer term”. The Chancellor hoped that that would be of some comfort to the objectors.

The faculty was granted, subject to the condition that, if the equipment was not used for a period of three months or more, then it would be removed from the church and the building made good.

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