Listed Building FAQs

We have been informed that our building is being considered for listing, will we be consulted?

Yes, the process for designation can be found online.

The description we have received only refers to the outside not the interior. Does that mean that it is only the outside which is listed?

No, the list description is for identification purposes only. Presumably the inspector could not get inside.  Whether a particular part of the building is mentioned or not, doesn’t matter.  The effect of a listing is that no alterations, to any part of the building which would alter its appearance, can be made without listed building consent. This applies from the date of listing.

Does that apply even though it is a place of worship?

Yes, except that Methodist Chapels benefit from Ecclesiastical Exemption which means that the consent (approval) is given by the Methodist Church rather than the local authority.  The effect is the same.  If you make alterations without approval you are breaking the law.

The notice says our building is Grade II. What does that mean?

Please see the Listed Buildings web page.

In England and Wales (there are different gradings in Scotland, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man) the buildings of greatest architectural and historic importance are Grade I or II*.  The Methodist Church has very few of these, Wesley’s Chapel, London, New Room, Bristol and Nicholson Square, Edinburgh are a few of a handful.  These buildings are so important no major alterations are likely to be permitted.  The majority of our buildings are Grade II.  It is generally accepted that alterations to Grade II buildings (and there are thousands of secular Grade II buildings) are possible so long as the proposals are in keeping with the primary use and do not destroy the essential features.

We have made changes to our building and the list description is now inaccurate – what do we do?

Nothing. The list description is for identification purposes only. Items that are no longer present (because they have received listed building approval for removal) do not need to be corrected on the description as the listing still covers the whole of the building. The list description is a legal document that can only be amended by Historic England/Cadw after they receive a formal request for an assessment of the listed building description.

Why have listing at all?

Because without a listing any owner is entitled to demolish a building.   The owner might require planning permission to put something in its place but there is no restraint on demolition. A listing prevents demolition or alteration without permission and has saved many fine buildings from unscrupulous developers.

So we can’t do anything, now it has been listed?

No, that is not the case.   Of course, there have been difficult times when we haven’t been able to agree with the local church’s proposals, but then neither has hardly anyone else!  In the great majority of cases we have been able to reach compromises and find solutions so that the Church can go on using its buildings for mission and worship.

We would like to seek approval to alter our listed building. What do we do?

Please see the How do I make changes to a listed building? web page.

Discuss your ideas with an architect (preferably one with conservation experience) and get the architect to prepare some good drawings which clearly show what you are proposing, take lots of photographs both of the exterior and the interior and send them to the Connexional Conservation Officer at Manchester.

Why is the decision notice called a Section 98?

Because that is the section in the Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church (CPD) which sets out the Standing Orders of the Methodist Conference dealing with listed building matters.  It contains very important provisions.  The whole church council should be made aware of them.

So what happens to Section 98 projects, how does the Connexional Conservation Officer decide on who should be consulted?

In effect the Conservation Officer sorts the projects into four categories:

(a)       Those projects where there are alterations but they are minor, or where there have been previous decisions of the committee which will give a guide as to whether approval should be given or not.  Where they can be approved they are dealt with without further reference.  “Minor” works include: replacement lighting or heating systems where there is no change to the character or appearance of the building, new sound systems and loop systems, kitchen and toilet refurbishment where there are no significant structural alterations and replacement notice boards.

(b)       Proposals for alterations which will require consultation with the statutory consultees.  They have a legal right to give their views on alterations on behalf of the public at large.  For these projects the Conservation Officer sends details of the proposals, together with photographs, to the consultees.  They have 28 days to reply.  The statutory consultees are Historic England or Cadw (in Wales), the Local Planning Authority and the National Amenity Societies.  Although there are six National Amenity Societies, it has been agreed that the Conservation Office needs to send details to the Ancient Monuments Society, the Georgian Group, Victorian Society and the Local Authority and they will, in turn, inform the other three societies as appropriate.  This arrangement is particularly beneficial in reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork as we have almost no chapels that pre-date 1715 (the end date for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings), a small but increasing number of listed chapels post 1914 (the start date for the Twentieth Century Society) and Methodist sites are seldom of interest to the Council for British Archaeology.  

(c)       There are other projects, perhaps where controversial proposals are made, where the Conservation Officer decides that an informal consultation would be appropriate to get first reactions from Historic England or Cadw, the Local Authority and the Amenity Societies.  When the consultees have replied the Conservation Officer often goes back to the local church to see if a more acceptable scheme can be proposed.  This is then sent out for the formal consultation. (as in (b) above)

(d)       The Conservation Officer then decides which of the projects need to be discussed in full by the Listed Building Advisory Committee.  That committee meets four times a year and, whilst it has details of every single scheme and is able to call for details of any of them, it only has time to discuss the major projects.

You make a distinction between listed buildings and conservation area buildings – why?

As a result of what is commonly referred to as the “Shimizu” case, the Government published Environment Circular 14/97 which came into effect on 1st October 1997.  Effectively this removed the need to obtain Conservation Area Consent for works of alteration to buildings in conservation areas.  A change in the consultation process therefore followed in that proposals for works affecting unlisted chapels in conservation areas (other than total demolition) were no longer automatically referred to the amenity bodies.  This revision to procedures came into effect at the end of July 1998.  This accounts for the reduction in the number of projects referred to the consultees and the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee in 1999.

Do we still need planning permission?

Yes. We are not exempt from the need to obtain planning permission for works to our buildings, and works within their curtilage that may affect their setting.

What else does the Connexional Conservation Officer do?

The Connexional Conservation Officer can provide you with guidance on all matters relating to the historic built environment. This may include historic landscapes, scheduled monuments, World Heritage Sites, Local Listing, Buildings at Risk, Heritage Action Zones etc. She can also give guidance on technical issues, such as sympathetic materials and techniques, and is a member of a number of forums where she represents the interests of the Methodist Church in all matters relating to the historic built environment.

How does the conservation officer give advice?

This is generally done over the telephone and by way of correspondence. This can be at the earliest stages of a scheme, giving general advice, or by commenting on preliminary sketch proposals. There is also a series of advice notes on different subjects such as the removal of pews and replacement windows.

She is able to visit; in fact, this is seen as an important part of the process. If there is a scheme which affects a grade I or II* building, then a visit will always be made. Most major projects affecting grade II buildings will also result in a visit, although an immediate response is not always possible. Visits are usually grouped together geographically so that the most efficient use of resources is made. Visits are of greatest value when they are made early in the process of developing a scheme so that clear guidance can be given

She is also happy to visit with members of the Property Development Committee where necessary.

Where can I learn more about the role of the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee?

Please see the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee web pages.

The Listed Building and Advisory Committee has three main roles.  First, it uses exactly the same criteria for judging the architectural and historic importance of one of our chapels as a local authority would use for judging the importance of any other building.

Can our request for listed building consent be refused?

Projects can be either “approved “, “approved subject to conditions “, or “refused “. In practice refusals are rare. In fact, only four projects have ever been refused.   Unlike the local authority system where there is a pressure to meet performance targets for determining applications within strict timetables, no such pressure exists within the Methodist system.  A Local Authority is thus more likely to refuse a scheme and then negotiate in respect of a revised application or simply rely on the appeal system to reach a decision.  The Methodist process, being open-ended, allows for extended negotiations as necessary.  Such negotiations will be carried out from the first receipt of a project and continue when the views of the consultees are known. Pre-submission discussions are also welcome as these can eliminate elements from projects which are likely to be unacceptable.

What conditions are attached to approvals?

When projects are approved subject to conditions, the conditions are generally of two main types.  The first is where approval has been given for the removal of items such as pews.  The condition requires that the items be disposed of rather than be destroyed.  The second type is where clarification of some detail is necessary and further drawings are required for approval.  In such cases there is a system for ensuring that there is compliance.

Why are projects refused?

As mentioned above, only four have been refused.  The first was at Wheatley Lane, Burnley where a scheme was received for the replacement of all the windows with PVCu units.  Strong objections were raised by the Ancient Monuments Society, The Victorian Society and the Local Planning Authority.  The proposal was also contrary to the adopted policy of the Methodist Church which does not allow PVCu windows in listed chapels and historic chapels in conservation areas.  No compromise was possible and the scheme was refused.  A subsequent scheme for the chapel included the sympathetic repair or replacement of the windows was approved. 

The second scheme to be refused was for the installation of PVCu windows to a cottage within the curtilage of Central, Monkton Hill, Chippenham.  Here it was decided that the work would have an adverse effect on the setting of the chapel. 

The third refusal was for the addition of a sign to the front elevation of Sidwell Street, Exeter, a grade II* chapel.  The proposed sign consisted of individual perspex letters, fixed to the facade.  The scheme was refused, not just because of the appearance of the lettering but also the possible adverse effect on the unique (in England) form of reinforced construction of the building.

The fourth involved the removal of pews from the New Room in Bristol. However, a compromise solution was subsequently found.  

Sometimes we cannot approve the scheme as submitted and some negotiation is carried out with the managing trustees (church council) and their agents to achieve an acceptable scheme.  Such occasions are minimised when there is close liaison between the conservation officer and the local church before the scheme is developed.

Do we get any financial help?

Building projects cost money.  Listed building projects often cost more!  This is usually as a result of increased specifications.  This is an added financial burden for many congregations.  A frequently aired complaint is that the Amenity bodies have the right to comment on proposals but make no financial contribution to the upkeep of listed chapels.  This, however, is to misunderstand the role of the Amenity bodies.

The greatest source of funding for projects affecting listed Methodist chapels is from within Methodism, primarily from the members of those churches where work is being done.

What happens when a church closes and we no longer require a listed building?

First, it will be treated in the same way as any other property which the Church has decided to dispose of.

All charities (and the Church is one) are governed by the provisions of the Charities Act 1993 when they want to dispose of land (which includes buildings) and they need to get a surveyor’s report. The surveyor may advise seeking planning permission for change of use.  For example, for residential development but often the building will be marketed to see if there is a prospective purchaser who will take the property as it is.

Any future owner must, of course, respect the listed status of the building.  The Conservation Officer will give detailed advice in each case.

Can we remove fixtures and fittings and sell them separately?

Moveable furniture, for example chairs, tables, crockery, pictures and books can be removed but fixed items e.g. pews, memorial plaques or the organ must stay.  If you want to remove items, perhaps to put them in another chapel, permission must be sought in the usual way for a scheme to “change the appearance of a listed building”.

What are the benefits of Ecclesiastical Exemption?

Ecclesiastical Exemption allows us to make our own decisions on proposals to alter our own buildings. Although we cannot always approve the projects exactly as submitted we have a vested interest in finding a workable solution.

Consistent standards apply across the whole Connexion when dealing with applications. This is of particular importance in view of the itinerant ministry. When moving to a new circuit, ministers can know that any scheme in which they are involved will be dealt with using the same criteria as other projects elsewhere. Many Local Planning Authorities do not have a conservation officer and can thus offer little or no constructive advice and may make ill-judged decisions. Others have officers who are rigid in their views and, given the opportunity, would allow no change whatsoever. Such intransigence would mean that we would have far more "problem buildings".

Each case is judged on its merits. This is especially evident when considering proposals to remove pews. Some of the factors that are taken into account are: the originality of the pews, their design and construction, their contribution to the overall character of the worship area, will examples of pews be retained (for example within a gallery)? If the purpose of the removal is to allow flexibility of worship is there other space available in the building? It is easier to take a wider perspective when dealing with the whole of the Methodist Connexion. The risk of ad-hoc decisions is thus minimised.

Since the inception of Ecclesiastical Exemption we have received very strong objections from one or more of the consultees in respect of some detail of a submitted scheme which we have been able to approve. Where such strong objection was raised it is likely that, if the Exemption had not applied, the scheme would have been refused. The options open to the Trustees would then have been to modify extensively the submitted scheme and resubmit the application or go to appeal. In the case of appeals, decisions may take upwards of twelve months with no certainty of a successful outcome.

But I can’t see anything architecturally or historically important about our chapel?

No, but I don’t understand much about football and find it hard to understand why people call it “the beautiful game”.  Isn’t it nice that some people think that our chapels (which are so ordinary and commonplace to us) are beautiful and have importance?  Perhaps you ought to invite an architect to the Church one night to explain just why your chapel and its history matters to the rest of the community around you.  

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