Ecclesiastical Exemption

Any works for the alteration of a listed church building, or for its extension or demolition which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historical interest, requires listed building consent or its equivalent as a consequence of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

Secondary legislation and in particular the Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 gives exemption from listed building consent and conservation area consent for the Methodist Church and the other main denominations.  The relevant legislation for Wales is The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Wales) Order 2018 and for Scotland is Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997. The exemption applies provided that the building is used for ecclesiastical purposes both before and after the works. 

We therefore operate an internal system of control for dealing with applications for alterations to listed buildings which complies with a Code of Practice agreed with Central Government. As part of this Code of Practice we have agreed to consult Historic England/Cadw, the local planning authority and the relevant national amenity societies about works that would otherwise require listed building consent. Consultation may also be required with our Listed Buildings Advisory Committee (LBAC). The proposals also have to be advertised locally by way of a site notice and, where external works are proposed, an advertisement in a local paper. The basis of the exemption is a requirement by Government that the exempt denominations should operate robust controls of their own that are as rigorous as secular listed building control.

The operation of the exemption differs depending on your location within the UK:

England

The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (England) Order 2010 can be found online. 

A copy of The Operation of the Ecclesiastical Exemption and related planning matters for places of worship in England Guidance – July 2010,  including the Code of Practice which the Methodist Church has agreed to adhere to is available online. 

Wales

The Ecclesiastical Exemption (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Wales) Order 2018 came into force on 1 January 2019 in Wales. This Order updates the ecclesiastical exemption regime and clarifies aspects of its operation. The most important changes made by the 2018 Order in the application of the exemption are that:

• ecclesiastical exemption no longer applies to the United Reformed Church in Wales;

ecclesiastical exemption no longer applies to conservation area consent for the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas; and

• listed and unlisted buildings and structures within the curtilage of a listed ecclesiastical building are now subject to denominational controls.

For more information on ecclesiastical exemption, download the new best-practice guidance, 'Managing Change to Listed Places of Worship in Wales: Ecclesiastical Exemption', which has been published to complement the new Order. The guidance sets out the guiding principles to consider when planning changes to listed places of worship covered by the 2018 Order. It also sets out a code of practice for denominational consent procedures, which explains how those principles should be included in the control and decision-making process.

Scotland

In Scotland, the exemption is limited to the interior of churches only and operates under a voluntary scheme run by Historic Scotland, reviewed every three years. Alterations to the exterior fall under secular control and require listed building consent through the planning system. An application is submitted to the local authority and, if successful, results in the granting of listed building consent.

If, however, the church is unable to negotiate a solution which is acceptable, under the exemption, the planning authority will refer the application to the appropriate ‘decision-making body’ within the denomination concerned, along with any written submissions from Historic Scotland, the planning authority and other interested parties, as appropriate. Our ‘decision-making body’ is the Methodist Council who will take advice via the Connexional Conservation Officer from the LBAC.

Updated guidance has recently been produced on the operation of the exemption in Scotland, this can be found by following this link: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/archives-and-research/publications/publication/?publicationId=ae94333e-5827-40a2-b123-ab0c0113cee5

Ecclesiastical Exemption and Ecclesiastical Purposes

The Ecclesiastical Exemption is retained for specified ecclesiastical buildings which are ‘for the time being used for ecclesiastical purposes’. The expression ' ecclesiastical building' is not expressly defined, although it is explicit that the term does not include manses as these are used for residential purposes. It is clear however, that the expression extends to church buildings, their contents and anything fixed thereto as well as to anything situated within the curtilage of a church building. This can include detached buildings, such as Sunday schools, halls, boundary walls and railings, monuments etc. and in England can include separately listed buildings as long as they are in use for ecclesiastical purposes.

Similarly, the expression 'ecclesiastical purposes' is undefined in the Act, but has been held to include in addition to use for corporate worship, “purposes connected with the use of the building, which the church authorities might think likely to foster...fellowship among its members”, which in each instance will be a question of fact.  

The Ecclesiastical Exemption and Planning Permission

The Ecclesiastical Exemption does not exempt denominations from the need to obtain planning permission for development which affects the exterior of a listed place of worship or of an unlisted place of worship in a conservation area.

The Ecclesiastical Exemption and Total Demolition of a Listed Building

Generally, the Ecclesiastical Exemption applies to all types of works which would otherwise require listed building consent, as set out above.  However, this principle does not apply to total demolition of an asset as, where total demolition is taking place, it has been held that the asset cannot be considered as being in ecclesiastical use.

Partial demolition of an ecclesiastical building however, can be dealt with under the exemption, provided that the remainder of the building following the works continues to be used for ecclesiastical purposes.

For further information, please contact the Conservation Officer

How do I make changes to a Listed Building?

How do I apply for listed building approval?

What is the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee?


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