Under legislation of 1990 (The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990) the Secretary of State must compile and maintain a list of buildings of ‘architectural, artistic archaeological or historic significance’.
In the words of the Act, ‘No person shall execute or cause to be executed any works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest, unless the works are authorised’
Buildings on the list may be graded 1 (the top two per cent of listed buildings) or 2* (the next four per cent). The remainder are Grade 2.
Until October 1994, controls on alterations to listed buildings did not apply to places of worship. In that year, however, the Government brought all listed buildings within the same framework. It reviewed the arrangements and reaffirmed them in 2009/2010. New arrangements, building on the old were introduced in April 2010 when the Government introduced a new Planning Policy Statement for the built heritage.
The responsibility for managing the list is with English Heritage, and the equivalent bodies in Scotland and Wales.
The responsibility for seeing that a local church remains within the law belongs to the managing trustees, usually the Elders.
The responsibility for giving listed buildings consent for changes to listed church buildings is with the United Reformed Church (in parallel with other churches) through its Synod structure. Local authorities have a limited role with regard to listed churches, although they are responsible for supervising alterations to secular listed buildings.
The Listed Buildings Advisory Committee, alongside the other synod committees involved with buildings and finance, exists to support churches in complying with the law, and help them discharge their responsibility for the historic buildings they have inherited – and will pass on.
Members of the committees are more than happy to be invited to talk over ideas as they are developed – the sooner the better. Without prejudice to any final decision, it is possible to discuss the potential project and make suggestions about how it could best be brought about.
As Christian citizens we accept the spirit and letter of the law and work conscientiously within it. The arrangements we have negotiated with the government, which give us control – within parameters – of our own destiny, are valuable and not to be taken lightly or carelessly thrown away.
However, where the churches’ mission demands it there are ways of both retaining the best and providing suitable resources for the future. In this way our buildings will continue to serve us while telling us about who we are and how we come to be what we are.
The United Reformed Church procedure document, together with the required forms are acessible from this site. Click here.
For useful links and sources of support, click here.