Statement by The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, published in The Fippenny News of August 2020.
Our ancient parish churches are part of the history of the community in which they are set but they have always been subject to changes over the centuries. Churches are community buildings which have to adapt to the needs of the community as those needs change. Before there can be any changes made to a church building, the permission of the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) must be obtained and a faculty issued by the Chancellor of the diocese. Because church buildings are not subject to the normal town and country planning procedure, a faculty is in effect a planning permission that is not granted without detailed scrutiny of the plans and, amongst other factors, their impact on the heritage of the building.
The responsibility for the repair and maintenance of a parish church lies with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) of the parish and not with the bishop of the diocese. I am not able to control what the PCC lawfully chooses to do with it. The PCC is an open, democratic, elected body in each parish.
I understand that the plans to change the inside of St Andrew’s have evolved over some years. The process has been as follows.
• In early 2016 the PCC invited the DAC to visit the church and talk through the
proposed changes. At this meeting the PCC was advised by the DAC that a more
ambitious reordering project than originally envisaged would be better for the church.
• The PCC drew up plans accordingly, engaging RLM architects to work with them.
• In the summer of 2016, a public meeting was held to enable the village to hear the
plans outlined. This was announced via posters around the village, at Sunday worship and in the Fippenny News. About 40 members of the village community (both church attenders and nonchurch attenders) attended the meeting. Drawings, plans and pictures of the proposed changes as well as the process by which the faculty would be obtained were explained. Comments were encouraged and taken into consideration as the planning proceeded.
• In response to a request from the meeting, a month later a leaflet was delivered to
every household outlining the PCC’s plans within the wider context of the church’s
future sustainability. Villagers were invited to join the Project Team that had been
tasked with taking the project forward. No one came forward to join.
• In early June 2016 the Parish Council was notified of the reordering project and a
Parish Council representative was assigned as liaison for this project. Regular reports were
then made to the Parish Council at all key stages of the reordering process,
minutes of which are in the public domain.
• Comments were also invited from the Village Community Group and the village
Primary School. None were received.
• The DAC remained fully involved in the project and ensured that all procedures were
carried out legally.
• Wider consultation was held with The Victorian Society, The Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings, The Church Buildings Council, Historic England and
Dorset County Planning and Conservation departments.
• The PCC commissioned conservation reports on the font and the pews and
archaeological test pits were dug to determine the likely level of archaeological
impact. No archaeological remains were found.
• Reports were made at every PCC meeting, minutes of which were posted in the church
porch and at Annual Parochial Church Meetings which everyone in the village was
welcome to attend.
• The correct legal paperwork was displayed for the period of the public consultation
and notice was given in the Fippenny News about how to make comments and an
offer made to discuss the plans with either the Rector or the Churchwarden. No
discussions were requested. The Diocesan Registry (the diocese’s legal office)
received ten letters of support for the project from village residents.
• The faculty for the works was granted in December 2019.
So you will see that there has been very wide consultation and ample opportunity over a long period to comment upon the proposals. While the PCC is not able at this stage to do the full reordering, as a start, some pews (introduced at the Victorian rebuild) are being removed and have been offered for sale on Facebook. Such a public sale is hardly consistent with a suggestion that has been made that the works are being conducted secretively. The removal of the pews will make it easier to achieve social distancing at public worship.
Although I am unable to control what the PCC does with the church building, I am able say that I am fully supportive of their plans which are designed to enable the church building to continue to be a valuable asset to the community into the future.
If you have any further enquiries, please be in touch with the Archdeacon of Sherborne, The Venerable Penny Sayer (firstname.lastname@example.org), who is in close contact with the Rector and the PCC over the proposed works.
24 July 2020
71 the Close,
Salisbury SP1 2ER
Telephone: 01722 334031