Context 169 - September 2021

34 C O N T E X T 1 6 9 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 LISA McINTYRE Churches and the amenity societies Consultation under the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules can balance retaining heritage and character with ensuring that buildings meet modern worship and community needs. It is no secret that ecclesiastical exemption, which removes the requirement for listed building consent for buildings in use for worship, is not always viewed favourably by parts of the heritage sector. The amenity societies in particular often query why the Church of England and other denominations have ultimate say over buildings which are part of the nation’s shared heritage. The purpose of this article is not to enter into the wider debate on whether ecclesiastical exemption should be substantially changed or even abolished. Rather, it is to discuss the con- sultative role that the amenity societies hold in the system as it currently operates in the Church of England (the single largest exempt group). Church buildings are maintained and operated by the parochial church council (PCC), a group of volunteers with a wide remit. If a PCC wishes to make changes to a building, it applies for a faculty to the diocesan advisory committee for the care of churches (DAC) for formal advice, with the final decision is made by the chancellor of the diocese, who is a legal professional. The membership make-up of each DAC, set out in legislation, includes a requirement to have a member who is appointed after consultation with the national amenity societies. (An interest- ing briefing day for these members was held at the SPAB offices in November 2019, discuss- ing best practice and whether these members ‘represent’ the Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies or are simply individuals with the relevant credentials to ensure that general heritage concerns are represented.) For some time there has been a requirement for consultation with amenity societies and other relevant bodies when proposals involve ‘altera- tion or extension [to a listed building] to such an extent as would be likely to affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’ (as stated in the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, amended 2019). Until recently, however, if the letter of the law was followed, this would mean that consultation would happen late in the process, as the DAC was only required to advise on who to consult when it issued its formal notification of advice. It is little wonder that, where consultation did not happen early, a narrative of the amen- ity societies being meddlers and PCCs being The new narthex with fully accessible WC and servery at St Martin Womersley (Photo: Lisa McIntyre)