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Chancellor grants faculty for gas boiler in Carlisle church, despite net-zero goal

15 September 2023

New gas boiler for All Saints’, Scotby, ‘only viable option’

ALEXANDER P. KAPP/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

A radiator in All Saints’, Scotby, in 2011

A radiator in All Saints’, Scotby, in 2011

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Carlisle has granted a faculty for the installation of a new gas boiler at All Saints’, Scotby, even though it did not comply with the Church of England’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon by 2030.

The petitioners who sought the faculty were the Vicar of Scotby and Cotehill with Cumwhinton, the Revd Isaac Lawrence, and a member of the PCC’s fabric committee. The DAC did not support the petition on the grounds that the fabric committee had not fully considered the alternatives to fossil fuel.

All Saints’ is a Grade II listed church consecrated in 1855. It has a capacity of between 120 and 50, in fixed pews. None of the petitioners’ proposals would have any effect on the character of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest, and the church was not located in a national park or conservation area.

The existing heating system consisted of a gas boiler installed in the 1980s using a single pipe system. In October 2022, a gas engineer who attended to give the boiler its annual service discovered that flue gases were escaping, and there were also various other defects. Investigations revealed that the boiler could not be brought back into service without considerable difficulty and expense, and even then there could be no guarantee that it would last long, owing to difficulties in obtaining parts.

The boiler was therefore shut off and condemned, and services were held in the village hall near by. Since then, attendance had decreased, and the petitioners were keen for services to be moved back to a heated church as soon as possible.

The proposed replacement for the condemned boiler was a modern gas boiler. The petitioners had obtained a quotation from a reputable contractor for the replacement boiler and associated works for £22,490. The new boiler would work with the existing pipework in the church, and would also be capable of using hydrogen as and when that became commercially available.

In February 2020, the General Synod voted for the whole of the Church of England to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 (News, 21 February 2020). It was recognised that heating was the major source of carbon emissions in most churches, and was responsible for 80 per cent of the Church’s carbon emissions.

In July 2022, changes to the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 came into force, and applicants for faculties were required to have “due regard” to the guidance issued by the Church Buildings Council on reducing carbon emissions. Before that, the Rules had made no specific mention of the net zero policy or the guidance.

Deputy Chancellor Richard Lander said that there were five points which could be taken from the guidance, which accorded “entirely with reality and common sense”. Those were the points which generally needed to be considered in applications of this nature.

The first was that churches needed to be properly heated, he said. A cold church was unwelcoming, and was likely to deter people from attending and detract significantly from the ministry of the church. That was particularly the case in a part of the country with an ageing population, since older people felt the cold more.

The second was that, in assessing whether a church building was properly heated, it was necessary to consider the proposed and likely uses for the building. If the only proposed use was for formal Sunday services, then the function of the heating system might be limited to keeping people warm in the pews. But if the building was to be used for more informal services, or for wider community use, it might be that all of the space would need to be heated.

The third was that any proposed heating system must be affordable. A requirement for a heating system that was not affordable was unworkable, because the church would not be able to install such a system. If the heating system had failed, that would leave the church with no heating at all, and might lead to its closure.

The fourth was that the list of types of heating systems available for churches was finite. A proper appraisal would generally involve considering each type of system, to evaluate whether it was an appropriate option for the particular church, with a view to finding the highest placed system in the list which met the needs of the church.

The fifth was that, once there had been a determination as to the appropriate type of heating system, or, more specifically, whether the system was appropriate, it was necessary to consider whether any conditions should be imposed when granting the faculty. It was necessary to consider the ways in which any carbon emissions from such a system might be offset, however imperfectly, by other methods.

The Deputy Chancellor concluded that the petitioners had had due regard to the guidance. They had followed the guidance and carried out a through appraisal of the options available to them. Their conclusion that a replacement gas boiler was the only viable option seemed to be correct on the basis of the evidence. The “rather unfortunate reality” was that it was the only affordable option which met the needs of the church.

If a church was to continue to operate a gas boiler, then the starting point, when considering conditions, ought to be that it should take steps to mitigate the effect of that, the Deputy Chancellor said. It was accepted that the energy market had been unstable since the invasion of Ukraine, and that green gas might not be consistently available at an affordable price, or at all. It was also well known that many green tariffs did not involve the sale of 100 per cent of the gas from renewable sources.

It was equally well known, however, that there were many reputable organisations that offered carbon offset schemes, enabling those who used fossil fuels to offset the emissions thereby created. While that might “be second best to avoiding the emissions in the first place”, the Deputy Chancellor said, “it was clearly better than nothing.”

The faculty was granted, subject to the condition that the church either switched to a green gas tariff or entered into a separate arrangement with a carbon offsetting scheme to offset the carbon emissions from all non-renewable gas used.

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