External consultees and listed status
Since it is exempt from listed building control, the Church of England has a statutory obligation to consult English Heritage, the National Amenity Societies and the Conservation Officers of the relevant Local Planning Authority on most work to listed church buildings. These bodies are often referred to collectively as ‘the external consultees’. Listed buildings are grouped to three categories:
- Grade II listed buildings: buildings of special interest, the basic category, representing 92% of the total nationwide;
- Grade II* listed buildings: particularly important buildings, representing 5.5% of the total nationwide;
- Grade I listed buildings: buildings of exceptional interest, representing 2.5% of the total nationwide.
You may sometimes hear it claimed that listing applies only to a part of a building, such as the façade. This is a misconception; all listing grades always apply to the entire structure.
Usually the Parish Property Support Team carries out the consultation on your behalf, but sometimes your architect may offer to do it for you or you may even wish to do it yourself. Any one of these approaches is acceptable, although it is important to keep a record of the date when the consultation was received. Under the Faculty Jurisdiction consultees are obliged to respond within 28 days of the date of the letter. They do not have to provide a definitive statement of their views within this period, but if they intend to comment at length they should at least inform you, your architect or the Parish Property Support Team that they wish to do so.
If no reply is received within this period then the consultation ‘times out’ and the consultee will be deemed to have no comment to make. But it is advisable to check in the case of major proposals. If the Chancellor of the Diocese sees that there is no response from the relevant consultee when deciding the Faculty then he may halt the processing of the papers in order for this to be done. In this case the 28-day statutory deadline will apply.
Which of the external consultees needs to be informed of your proposals depends on the listing grade of your church building, the extent of the works that you wish to carry out and the age of the fabric or fittings that will be affected. The consultees and the situations in which they need to be consulted are as follows:
- English Heritage London region: the local department of the national quango charged with oversight of the historic environment, which deals with buildings of all grades and dates. English Heritage is consulted on any proposal, however minor, likely to affect the historic character or interest of a Grade I or Grade II* listed building. Consultation on proposals for Grade II listed buildings is only mandatory in the case of schemes involving the demolition or removal of all or substantial parts of the interior. In all other cases it is discretionary.
- The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB): the national amenity society dealing with listed fabric and fittings of all grades dating from before 1714 and any proposal likely to affect the historic character of the building concerned.
- The Georgian Group: the national amenity society dealing with listed fabric and fittings of all grades dating from 1714 to 1836 and any proposal likely to affect the historic character of the building concerned.
- The Victorian Society: the national amenity society dealing with listed fabric and fittings of all grades dating from 1837 to 1914 and any proposal likely to affect the historic character of the building concerned.
- The Twentieth Century Society: the national amenity society dealing with listed fabric and fittings of all grades dating from after 1914 and any proposal likely to affect the historic character of the building concerned.
- The Ancient Monuments Society: the national amenity society dealing with fabric and fittings of all grades and dates. Usually this organisation is consulted only on major projects involving substantial alteration or change, likely to affect the character of the building as a whole.
Following its internal restructuring in 2012, English Heritage created six Business Officers for the London region, who are now the first point of contact for casework. They cover specific boroughs and are in overall charge of consultations, handling cases involving buildings of all types, dates and listing grades. They then assign the consultation to the appropriate Historic Building Inspector (HBI) on the basis of that individual’s particular areas of knowledge and expertise and pass on all the relevant information from the applicant. SPAB and the Victorian Society both have dedicated ecclesiastical caseworkers. The Georgian Group, the Twentieth Century Society and the Ancient Monuments Society do not; instead they have caseworkers who cover Greater London (or specific boroughs within the Greater London area) and deal with all building types and grades. Contact details for the relevant caseworkers and Business Officers are not given here as these may be subject to change. But it is always better if you can address your consultation to a named individual: follow the hyperlink to the site of each organisation concerned and phone to find out who will be dealing with your consultation – or which Business Officer covers your borough in the case of English Heritage – and his or her contact details. If you are in any doubt as to which organisation should be consulted or whether any external consultees need to be consulted at all then please contact the Parish Property Support Team.
Consultation is not a box-ticking exercise and it is important to engage external consultees and take proper account of their comments. Open and constructive dialogue will ensure your application has a smooth passage through the approval process.
In some cases the Church Buildings Council (CBC) may also need to be consulted. This is a little like a Diocesan Advisory Committee, only with a national remit. It tends to be consulted on major proposals, often but not always involving highly listed buildings and with wider ramifications for the use and conservation of historic churches. Consultations with the CBC are usually carried out by the Parish Property Support Team.
Some listing grades were assigned a long time ago and no longer properly reflect the architectural and historic importance of the building concerned. From time to time English Heritage reviews its listings and this may result in their being raised. Alternatively, bodies such as the national amenity societies may put in an application for an upgrade: any member of the public is entitled to do this and the application can be completed on-line on English Heritage’s website. For similar reasons buildings which are not listed are sometimes nominated for listing. In both cases you will be informed in writing by English Heritage that an application has been submitted and of its outcome. There is a common misconception that having a building listed means that no changes can any longer be made to it. This is not the case – many listed buildings are able to take well designed and negotiated change in their stride and the whole faculty system is predicated on the obligation to take full account of the needs of a living parish.