PLANNING policy is to be strengthened to protect church bells from being silenced by complaints from people who have moved into the surrounding area, the Government has confirmed.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Sajid Javid, said: “Churches have been part of British life in towns and villages for centuries. Their bells should not be silenced by new housing going up, which is why planning policy will be strengthened to ensure it will be up to developers building new properties near by to identify and tackle noise problems.”
Under the new guidance, the onus will fall on the developers who build the homes to soundproof the properties.
The Government said that the new guidance, which will be published in the spring, in a response to last year’s housing White Paper, would protect churches, music venues, and community and sports clubs from complaints about noise.
The Director of Churches and Cathedrals Becky Clark welcomed the announcement, saying that bell-ringing had been part of Christian worship for more than 1000 years.
The change in guidance follows the latest case of a complaint about bell-ringing, at St Peter’s, Sandwich, in Kent. Dover Council has announced a ban on the church’s bells between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., after a resident complained about the noise.
The church bells had chimed unchallenged every 15 minutes since 1779.
Supporters of the bells, including the local Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, have set up a campaign, Save our Chimes, and Mr Mackinlay has raised the case in the House of Commons.
He welcomed the Government’s change to planning guidance this week, which, he said, would have a “very significant impact” on the case in Sandwich. “I’m greatly concerned that Dover Council intend to allow a church clock that has chimed through the night since 1779 to be silenced because of just one or two complaints.
“This decision does not seem to appreciate the history and traditions of a medieval town like Sandwich, which is why I understand and share local residents’ dismay.
“The nature of Dover Council’s decision, and its implications on the wider historical environment, have, given its rarity, not been explored fully, and I fear it has the potential to set a precedent for future, similar decisions.
“But it’s not too late for the council to change course and adopt a more consensual approach that recognises the historic contribution of St Peter’s Church to Sandwich, while ensuring [that] local amenity is protected.”
He has called on the council to delay the ban while the case — and the implications of the new guidance — are looked into.
Other cases include that of St Andrew’s, Coniston, in the Lake District, whose bells were silenced overnight last year when guests at the local pub complained about the noise. The district council ordered the church to reduce overnight noise.
The Government has confirmed that, once the revised guidance is published in the next few months, a “round table” meeting with housing developers and other interested parties will be set up.