THE churchwardens of a Grade I listed church in which a kitchenette was installed without faculty approval offered excuses with “all the forensic plausibility of a 30-mile drive to Barnard Castle to test one’s eyesight”, a consistory-court judgment has concluded.
The churchwardens and PCC of St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, designed by A. D. Wagner in 1872-74, and believed, at 135 ft high, to be the tallest parish church in England, agreed in October to build a kitchen-sink unit and boiler for tea and coffee in a side passage parallel to the nave.
Once work had begun in January, however, the consistory court in Chichester diocese found that no faculty had been granted, and ordered the work to cease, unfinished.
In February, the churchwardens applied for a confirmatory faculty to legalise retrospectively the works already started.
The Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Hill QC, ultimately approved the faculty so that the kitchenette could be finished, but first issued a 14-page ruling that criticises both the churchwardens and the parish’s architect, Bryan Graham.
Mr Graham argued that the work did not require a faculty as it came under various provisions in the List A category. He initially maintained that the new servery was permissible because it did not affect historic materials or the fabric of the church; but this provision applies only to maintenance and repair of existing parts of the building, the Chancellor responds.
The architect then suggested that a different part of the List A rules should cover the church’s new tea and coffee area, relating to the repair and replacement of fittings in existing kitchens. “In our case, a very ad hoc kitchen did exist in the passageway in the form of a table, a tea urn on a trolley, a wall-mounted cold-water tap, and a power point,” he wrote.
In response, the Chancellor drew on the excuse offered by Dominic Cummings for his apparent breach of lockdown regulations during a day trip in County Durham (News, Comment 27 May). “This strained justification has all the forensic plausibility of a 30-mile drive to Barnard Castle to test one’s eyesight,” the ruling says in response to Mr Graham’s suggestion. “By no stretch of the imagination could a tea urn and a tap constitute a kitchen.
“Mr Graham has stretched the words of A1-2 beyond breaking point: this paragraph cannot on any sensible meaning embrace what was proposed.”
The architect also quoted from several other parts of List A to justify his approval of the kitchenette without a faculty; each was quickly dismissed by Chancellor Hill, who, at one point, quoted the Oxford Learners’ Dictionary definition of the word “furniture” to make his point.
“I suspect that Mr Graham may have reverse-engineered an ex post facto justification. Despite his valiant attempts to shoehorn the works into several of the paragraphs, it is clear, for the reasons I have given, that the introduction of this kitchenette cannot possibly come within List A,” the ruling concludes.
The two churchwardens — who mistakenly thought that no faculty was needed owing to a misremembered portion of the diocese of Chichester’s old rules on minor building works — were also criticised.
Chancellor Hill ultimately decided to approve the retrospective faculty, despite noting that, for not much more money, the parish could have built something significantly better. St Bartholomew’s must, however, get building-regulations approval for the kitchenette, submit plans for how they will create storage for crockery and improve ventilation, and remove an old wooden cupboard that currently sits under the new sink unit, propped up on bricks.
Chancellor Hill also recommends that the church dispense with the services of Mr Graham, who, the ruling concludes, “fell well short of the professional standard expected of a competent inspecting architect”, and offered “specious and untenable” arguments during the consistory-court process.