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Church granted oil boiler faculty retrospectively but ‘precedent not set’

15 March 2024

Creative Commons/Basher Eyre

St Mary’s, Stalbridge, Salisbury

St Mary’s, Stalbridge, Salisbury

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Salisbury has granted the PCC of St Mary’s, Stalbridge, a confirmatory faculty for a like-for-like replacement boiler, which had been installed without lawful authority, to replace an old boiler.

The DAC had considered that the PCC’s proposal had not had “due regard” to the net-zero guidance as required by the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2022. Before the petition went before the court for consideration, however, the PCC procured the installation of the new boiler.

In 2022, St Mary’s, a Grade II listed medieval church, had been in interregnum for three years when the parish was confronted with the need to replace the old oil-fired boiler, and the PCC proposed a like-for-like replacement.

The present Rector, Canon Richard Hancock, took up the incumbency at the end of June 2022. The PCC and the churchwardens proceeded on the basis that a new oil-fired boiler could be approved under List B without the need for a faculty. That position changed on 1 July 2022, however, a change of which the parish was unaware until informed by the Archdeacon in October 2022. The old boiler was condemned in November 2022, and the faculty petition was begun in January 2023.

The Deputy Chancellor, David Willink, said that it was “unanswerable” that the PCC had not followed the net-zero guidance. That was in part because, at the point at which the decision was made to undertake a like-for-like replacement of the old boiler, there was no requirement that they should follow the net-zero guidance.

The Deputy Chancellor said that, while there might be more that the PCC could have done, he accepted that “the slightly unhappy timeline of events”, in which the decision predated the requirement to have due regard to the guidance, presented “a cogent reason for not complying with that guidance before the decision was taken”.

The Deputy Chancellor emphasised that his decision “must not be thought to set a precedent”, since his conclusion arose out of the particular set of facts before him, which were “unlikely to arise again in the future”.

The Deputy Chancellor said that he had taken no account of the fact that the new boiler had already been installed. A confirmatory faculty would be granted if, and only if, a faculty would have been granted to authorise the works before they were carried out. He reiterated that the petitioners, and any who followed after in other parishes, “should not labour under any misapprehension that the fact that the work had already been done counts in their favour in any way”.

The PCC put before the court a revised quotation from the heating engineer for the installation of a differently specified oil-fired boiler that could be converted to run on non-fossil fuel (HVO: hydrotreated vegetable oil) at modest cost; a quotation for bringing three-phase electricity to the churchyard wall; and a quotation for the supply and installation of air-source heat pumps.

The petitioners said that their inability to heat the church the previous winter, coming on top of previous difficulties, including Covid and the interregnum, had been a significant deterrent to church attendance and giving. “Plainly, the church must be heated,” the Deputy Chancellor said; but the emergency measures taken in 2022, “while well meaning, were inappropriate given the effect on the fabric of the church”.

The confirmatory faculty was granted subject to two conditions. The first was that the PCC should undertake accredited carbon offsetting to offset all carbon-dioxide emissions from the use of fossil fuel in the new boiler.

The second condition was that the faculty authorised the use of the oil-fired boiler only until 31 December 2028. The petitioners could apply during the lifetime of the faculty for an extension of that period. In considering any such extension, the court would take into account all the circumstances, including evidence of compliance with the offsetting condition, whether the boiler had been converted to HVO, and the development of the parish’s long-term heating plan.

The petitioners were required to pay the court costs and the registry costs of the petition.

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