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Faculty granted, but PCC member must pay costs

03 August 2018

THE Chancellor of the diocese of Leicester, Mark Blackett-Ord, granted a confirmatory faculty for the covering of the north-aisle roof of All Saints’, Pickwell, with Sarnafil, a non-metallic roofing membrane, which had already been carried out without faculty consent.

He ordered, however, that the member of the PCC who had been “the driving force” behind the decision to go ahead with the Sarnafil option without faculty approval should pay the costs of the proceedings personally, without taking a contribution or indemnity from the PCC or any other church funds.

All Saints’ is a 13th- or 14th-century Grade I listed rural church in the Decorated style. Most of its roof, and in particular the roof of the north aisle, was lead-covered. In September 2016, part of the lead on the north aisle was stolen. Emergency steps were taken to keep the church dry, and immediate consideration was given to the question of the roof repair.

At the time, the church had been in an interregnum for two or three years; so there was no incumbent. There were, however, two churchwardens, supported by an active PCC. The insurance claims were £7500 in respect of the theft from the roof, and £7500 for the consequential damage to the organ. Both those sums were paid fairly promptly to the PCC.

In March 2017, the secretary to the diocesan advisory committee (DAC) received an email on behalf of the PCC, which stated that reroofing in lead would cost £12,840 plus architect’s fees, whereas reroofing in “composite material” would cost £7760 plus architect’s fees. The PCC asked whether it was obligatory to use lead for roof replacement. The DAC replied in less than two hours, stating that the “normal approach from Historic England” was that “ideally, lead should be replaced with lead.”

The DAC further stated that it was “reluctant to recommend to the Chancellor an alternative material . . . which Historic England would not support”, because the Chancellor might well take the view that a faculty should not be granted.

In June 2017, Historic England published the document Metal Theft from Historic Buildings. The document reflected Historic England’s discouragement of synthetic materials because they “did not replicate the appearance of lead, and, because they are visually inappropriate, they are highly likely to harm the significance of historic buildings”. Also, their “technical performance and longevity in the demanding environment of a roof on a historic building [have] not been proven”.

By July, after a further exchange of emails, the PCC was told by the Archdeacon of Leicester that the work could not be undertaken without a faculty, and that a faculty could be sought in the Consistory Court. The PCC knew that the only case in which a faculty application for the use of Sarnafil had succeeded within the diocese was for All Saints’, Loughborough.

On 18 August 2017, Martin Watts, of the PCC, wrote to the Archdeacon and the Area Dean. The letter was copied to two bishops, the Lord Lieutenant, and numerous others. It stated that they had done the work anyway, and that it was “very successfully completed yesterday”.

The Chancellor said that, if he refused the confirmatory faculty, the logical order would be for the Sarnafil to be removed and replaced with a more suitable material. He was not going to do that, the Chancellor said, because it would be a waste of materials and money, and the Sarnafil covering would be adequate for at least a number of years.

The Chancellor concluded that the roof should remain for the rest of its natural life, but should be inspected and maintained with the greatest care during that period, to avoid the possibility (or ultimately likelihood) that it would start leaking and that damage to the church would ensue.

It was also directed that, when the roof needed to be replaced, its replacement material should be decided by the Chancellor or his successor, and there should be no presumption that because Sarnafil was already there, then Sarnafil should be used in the future.

The Chancellor continued that if the churchwardens and PCC had “heeded the sensible advice” given to them by the DAC in March 2017, they might have adopted a proposal that was non-contentious, such as the use of zinc or sound-insulated terne-coated stainless steel. Emergency faculties were regularly granted when lead roofs had been stolen.

The usual order for costs would almost certainly have been that costs should be borne by the church’s own funds. But Mr Watts was the driving force behind the decision to go ahead with the Sarnafil option without faculty approval. The Chancellor had not been able to decide whether Sarnafil would normally be an acceptable option, but had been able to decide only what should be done in the circumstances created by Mr Watts’s behaviour.

It was, therefore, ordered that Mr Watts should pay the costs of the proceedings personally. He was not to take a contribution or indemnity from the PCC or any other church funds. If he was right in his contention that he was supported thoroughly by the PCC, the Chancellor said, then the individual members of the PCC were at liberty to make their own voluntary contributions towards Mr Watts’s debt.

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