Demolition of “Victorian jewel in the Fens” church refused

An earlier post Demolition of landmark spire in Leicester described the urgent, emergency work that will be necessary to render safe the spire of St Mary de Castro, an acclaimed Grade I listed building in the conservation area in the centre of Leicester, close to the Cathedral.  The relevant consistory court proceedings are yet to become available, but the recent case of Re St. Paul Eastville [2013] Lincoln Const Ct Mark Bishop Ch. provides an example of how such matters are dealt with under the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991 and the considerations of the court in balancing the safety of anyone potentially affected by serious structural damage, including those employed to undertake remedial action, and an unwillingness to engage in precipitate action.

The chancellor described St Paul’s Church as “a small early Victorian Gothic church built in flat fenland … the last of 6 churches built under the Fen Churches Act 1816 [1] and was completed in 1840,” adding “[I]t would be a tragedy if it was necessary to demolish this Victorian jewel in the Fens”. St Paul’s is Grade II listed but not in a conservation area, and ceased to be used for worship in around 2007 because there were signs of movement in the structure and the congregation could no longer support the financial burden of maintaining the building. Although no longer in use, the church has not been made subject to a formal closure process due to delays caused by pastoral reorganisation, and it was anticipated that this would take at least 18 months to be completed.

As the result of a complaint to the local authority on 18 October 2012 to the effect that it was now in a dangerous condition, an application for its demolition was made under s 18 of the 1991 Measure “in the interests of safety or health and, having regard to the urgency of the matter, there is insufficient time to obtain a faculty”.

The court’s decisions to date have consisted of: a provisional judgement, (13 April 2013); further directions of the court, (15 July 2013); and the judgement, (1 October 2013).

Provisional Judgement

An initial engineering assessment suggested that the church could collapse ‘in the very near future’, the majority of the damage occurring in the last 8 years due to the presence of fast growing trees at the south-east section of the building which are drawing moisture from below the foundations and causing very serious ground shrinkage.  The damage was identified as category 5 taken from the BRE Digest 25, i.e. damage which raises concern of severe instability.

The Principal Consultant Surveyor of the Lincolnshire Building Consultancy indicated that the danger must be removed and would seek an order under a s77 Notice [Building Act 1984] before the Magistrates Court, if the church dis not act to remove the danger.

The chancellor’s main concern in his provisional view the threat to members of the public particularly those that live close by. However he noted that English Heritage (EH) and the Church Buildings Council had not given a view, and directed that the provisional judgement should be sent to them for comment within 28 days.

Further Directions of the Court

These were based upon a letter from EH, its engineer’s report, a letter from the chair of ChurchCare, and a visit to the church by the Chancellor.  The Chancellor noted [at 7 and 8 of the Further Directions]

“7. … However, my assessment under s 18 of the Measure is a practical assessment of the following: emergency demolition of the whole church can only be authorised if it is necessary in the interests of safety or health and there is insufficient time to obtain a faculty in respect of it, and in respected of a listed building (which this is) it is not practicable to secure safety or health by works of repair (or works for affording temporary support or shelter), and the works to be carried out are limited to the ‘minimum measures immediately necessary’, [emphasis in original].

8. I am not satisfied on the material placed before me at present that it is not practicable to secure safety or health by works of repair …”.

Further information was sought within 28 days from the consulting structural engineer (for the DAC) and the senior engineer (for EH, who had indicated that there was then no understanding of the cause of the damage). The removal of the sycamore trees was directed, subject to a risk assessment, and the Local Authority was to be informed.


Having received the requested information, the Chancellor concluded [at para.9]:

“9. In the light of the professional opinions of [the EH- and DAC-appointed engineers], I am not satisfied that I can exercise the power under s 18 to order the demolition of the church. This is because given the engineering opinions … I am not satisfied that it has been established that a demolition is necessary in the interests of safety or health. Nor am I satisfied that that it is not practicable to secure safety or health by works of repair. Nor am I satisfied that demolition is the ‘minimum measure immediately necessary’. The provisions of s 18 are not met”.


This case highlighted short-, medium- and long-term issues that are important in cases such as this:

– decisions taken as soon as a problem has been identified tend to be driven by the immediacy of the situation, and considered advice is necessary before action is taken;

– where immediate demolition is not justified, a plan of necessary remedial measures must be drawn up with specialist advice, and if no practicable solution is forthcoming, demolition must be reconsidered. This will require a further faculty, and unless an emergency situation arises, this must be brought under the provisions of s17 of the Measure;

– if not regularly maintained, buildings such as churches can deteriorate in the medium- to long-term  The last Quinquennial architect’s inspection of St Paul’s was in June 2005 ( i.e. 8 years ago), and this stated that the church was in generally a good condition with some minor repointing and

There is a great reluctance within the Church of England and the heritage bodies to authorize demolition, an ongoing example of which is that of Birch Church which has been closed for 23 years.  Followers of Fr Z’s blog will be aware that this is not just a domestic problem.

[1] Pevsner notes that the church was “by C J Carter, the last of the six chapels sanctioned in 1812 by the Fen Churches Act … and the only one not by Jeptha Pacey”.

5 thoughts on “Demolition of “Victorian jewel in the Fens” church refused

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