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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2006




 
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Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

Miss Anne Begg

†Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
Dorrell, Mr. Stephen (Charnwood) (Con)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Etherington, Bill (Sunderland, North) (Lab)
†Field, Mr. Mark (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
Foster, Mr. Don (Bath) (LD)
†Gibson, Dr. Ian (Norwich, North) (Lab)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
†Irranca-Davies, Huw (Ogmore) (Lab)
†Joyce, Mr. Eric (Falkirk) (Lab)
†Lammy, Mr. David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport)
†Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Medway) (Lab)
†Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
†Roy, Mr. Frank (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab)
Sanders, Mr. Adrian (Torbay) (LD)
†Winnick, Mr. David (Walsall, North) (Lab)
Yeo, Mr. Tim (South Suffolk) (Con)
Sîan Jones, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee


 
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Monday 20 March 2006

[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2006

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2006.

The order is required so that the Government can continue to provide funding for the Churches Conservation Trust. I think it is appropriate for me to give some background on the work of the trust. It takes into care the finest Church of England churches no longer required for worship and currently cares for 335 such churches. It was established by the Church in 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund, and has always been in partnership with both the Church and the Government. The Government currently provide 70 per cent. of the trust’s statutory funding, with the other 30 per cent. coming from the Church.

Historic churches are a valuable part of the nation’s heritage. Some 45 per cent. of all grade I listed buildings are churches, and they represent the finest of our historic buildings. They are showpieces for the most accomplished design and workmanship. They are also vital in helping to define local communities. Sadly, an average of 25 to 30 Anglican churches become redundant every year due to various factors. The Church finds alternative uses for around half of those. Around a quarter—those with no specific historical or architectural interest and no scope for alternative use—are demolished and the remaining quarter, the finest ones, are vested in the trust. Decisions on which churches are to be made redundant and which vested in the trust are made not by the Government but by the redundant churches committee of the Church of England. As part of their responsibilities towards the historic environment, the Government have a commitment to help to preserve listed church buildings. Government funding for the trust is a vital part of the package of programmes that support that aim.

The trust’s primary objective and the greatest drain on its funds is the conservation of its churches, particularly on vesting, when the building may have been out of use for a number of years. It specialises in ensuring that churches are put back into the best state possible. At St. Peter’s church in Northampton—a fine, grade I listed Norman church—the trust recently
 
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paid more than £250,000 to repair the roof, remove the mould that had grown as a result of the roof leaking and conserve a stencilled oil paint scheme by Sir George Gilbert Scott which dates to the 1850s.

Once in a fit state, churches are opened to the public and enjoyed by thousands of people each year. In 2004, 1.2 million people visited the trust’s churches, including 9,600 as part of our heritage open days. The churches host many events, from concerts to flower festivals to farmers’ markets. There were 480 events in 2004. There are also school visits, and many people visit simply to find a quiet, reflective place. The trust is looking at what else its churches can bring to the community, how they can become tools of regeneration and community cohesion, and how they can encourage and empower local volunteers and host vital community activities and services.

I have seen two exciting projects at first hand over the past six months or so. St. Paul’s, Bristol had been a mess, and was used by drug addicts and prostitutes. It was in the middle of a run-down area that was the scene of riots in the 1980s. Thanks to the trust and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, St. Paul’s is back in pristine condition. It is also home to a circus school that works with the local community, engages with young people and has ownership among the diverse community there. People can visit and enjoy the church and watch the circus performers. The whole area has been transformed.

If the vital Heritage Lottery Fund grant is received, St. James’s, the Churches Conservation Trust church in Toxteth, Liverpool—another area formerly associated with unrest—will become a multi-faith community resource and will enable local people to explore the area’s links to the slave trade. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, and we hope that St. James’s will be able to play an important part in that.

A funding agreement between the trust and the Department sets targets for the trust in line with the Department’s public service agreement targets. This year, for the first time, a new funding agreement has been jointly agreed with the Church Commissioners, and it includes their preferences for the trust’s direction in the coming year. I am a great supporter of the trust’s work and am excited by the opportunities presented by the trust churches. What the trust does is a vital part of conserving our heritage, although many churches can also become centres of vibrant and renewed communities.

The order provides for Government grants to the Churches Conservation Trust from the 2006–07 to the 2008–09 financial years, up to a maximum of £9 million. That is an aggregate of the 2004 spending review settlement of £3 million a year, already made public and notified to the trust for planning purposes. The trust has responded well to this period of flat
 
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funding; it has raised funds through applications for lottery grants, charitable funds and private donations and legacies. It is looking at other ways to expand its income, and donations are on an upward curve.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Will the Minister elaborate on the role of English Heritage in maintaining the work of churches? At the end of the day, will we have to close some churches? So many churches in my county of Norfolk need support.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right; I hope to come on to that issue.

There has been tremendous progress in the work that the trust has been able to do in an urban setting. Many of us will recall that urban churches have been losing congregations and are in need of renewal, but there have been real advances, and I have mentioned the examples in Toxteth and Bristol. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are particular needs in the rural context. I have been engaged on that with the Bishop of London, who leads for the Anglican community.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that Norfolk in particular has a heritage that goes back to the very seeds and beginnings of the Anglican community. It also has rural populations, to whom churches are particularly valuable. However, such churches may be in villages where populations have fallen.

As I said, the fund we are discussing is for particular grade I and grade II-listed churches, although it is not the entirety of the pot. My hon. Friend is right to point to the work of English Heritage, which plays an important role. He is also right to suggest that it is a hot topic across the Government and communities in England.

On the wider issue of church funding, the Government’s record is good. From Government and lottery sources, more than £60 million will go to churches and cathedrals this year. My hon. Friend knows that English Heritage, with its £130 million grant, has, through its grant aid schemes, supported our cathedrals and is intent on moving forward for greater support for our churches, particularly through its “Inspired!” campaign.

In addition to the Churches Conservation Trust settlement, churches can reclaim the VAT they pay on repairs to listed church buildings. Since 2001, more than £42 million has been returned, and the scheme currently pays out about £1 million a month. English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund put about £25 million a year into church repairs from their joint scheme, and English Heritage gives £1 million a year for cathedral repairs. It is largely accepted that we have made tremendous progress over the past decade in respect of the state of the fabric of our cathedrals, although there is clearly still work to do on some of them. It is also right to put on the record the work of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has played a huge part in getting more repairs and new facilities for churches and cathedrals through other funding streams. That has amounted to about £30 million a year.


 
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Of course, the challenge is considerable. Part of the discussion is about how we also open up our rural churches, and get uses alongside the Anglican traditional use as community resources. The Government have been keen to be involved in a dialogue about that with the Church and other stakeholders. As the Church of England document “Building faith in our future” made clear, this is only partly about money; it is also about giving church organisations access to support networks and advice on national, regional and local levels, and about improving the knowledge of what works to keep churches in use, as well as looking into innovative ways to keep churches as living buildings in their communities.

The Churches Conservation Trust is an integral part of our support for the country’s historic churches. I hope that hon. Members share my enthusiasm for the work of the trust, and that they will agree to the order.

4.42 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): May I first put on the record that the majority of Opposition Committee Members support the principle put forward by the Minister? He rightly focused on urban areas, and, with great respect to the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and the comments that he made, I wish to say a little more about the work of the Churches Conservation Trust and our churches in urban areas.

I see the trust’s work in my constituency. Those who know the City of London may be aware that in addition to St. Paul’s cathedral there are 47 churches that exist to this day, as well as the Bevis Marks synagogue, which has one of the oldest foundations of any synagogue in the country. Most of those 47 churches are in a pretty good state of repair. They largely rely on moneys that come from local businesses, which are often among the wealthiest banks and corporations in the country. However, there are about half a dozen parish churches.

The Minister made an accurate comment. I fear that I do not know as much about Tottenham as I do about the constituency of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), where there are two fine churches, St. Alfege’s and St. Nicholas, Deptford. Although that sounds as though it should be in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), it is in fact just inside Greenwich. Those two fine churches are active community centres. We should not underestimate the importance of that kind of work because where there is a dwindling population or a diminishing number of local churchgoers, it can often provide an opportunity to utilise the work of the trust.

I want to touch on some minor issues and to ask a couple of questions. First, is £3 million a year enough? Given that the grant has been frozen for a third three-year stint, I would be interested to know what discussions have taken place within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and whether there is a
 
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move towards selling and putting into alternative use a greater proportion of the churches on the trust’s books.

The Minister pointed out that of the 30 or so Anglican churches that become redundant every year, about a quarter qualify for moneys in this way and a quarter are demolished, partly on the grounds that too much money could be expended with too little reward. How many of the redundant churches would qualify for trust assistance and would subsequently be demolished or have a new use found for them?

I also want to touch on the issue relating to the Bishop of London. I know him well, given that his main home is a stone’s throw away from St. Paul’s in my constituency. Conservative Members have questions to raise about the additionality principle for national lottery funding. I note that the Bishop of London has lobbied strongly for more Government moneys to be spent on preserving our best churches. Where does the Minister think those moneys will come from? Some £3 million a year is a relatively small sum, given the demands on the trust. The funding that the Heritage Lottery Fund receives is likely to reduce from the current £350 million a year to about £200 million a year over the next three or four years. That must be taken into account when examining the good work that is done to preserve our best churches.

Given the importance of the work to which the order relates, has the Minister had further thoughts about how the longer-term funding might be achieved? As an increasing number of Anglican churches no longer have an active role in the community as places of worship, is it felt that more innovative, imaginative schemes should exist to ensure that they are put to alternative uses and therefore bring in substantial sums? He will be aware that a number of the London churches that have closed down in recent years have been subject to exciting residential use. That might bring in considerably more money than simply allowing them to fall into the hands of local authorities or local charities for a period of time. If that was a way in which significant funds could be released for the purposes of preserving other churches, it would a sensible route to take.

As I said, there is little in the order to which Conservatives will object. If the Minister is unable to answer any of the questions I have posed today, I hope he will do so in writing. I wish the trust all the best with its important work as it continues into its fourth decade.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Miss Begg. I do not in any way want to minimise the importance of the order, because the subject involves the future of a number of churches, and I accept that you might have no way of giving a ruling on this now or at a future time. However, why is it necessary, according to procedure, for 17 Members to be involved in this deliberation? In future, if the rules permit it—if they do not, so be it—cannot a smaller number of Members be involved? Having 17
 
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to discuss this particular item seems somewhat excessive, although I accept that one never knows if a Division will take place.

The Chairman: The minimum number of Members for a Committee such as this is 16. The Committee of Selection has chosen to put 17 Members on the Committee, but there will always be a minimum of 16 in such Committees.

Mr. Winnick: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. In the light of your comments, I will write to the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee. Perhaps they will want to examine the matter.

The Chairman: That might be the way forward.

4.49 pm

Mr. Lammy: I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) for his support and warm words for the trust. I am glad that he shares my enthusiasm for its work. Government funding for it is an effective and successful part of the support that we give to churches across the piece. We must ensure that those fine buildings still exist to be enjoyed by future generations, be they in an urban, suburban or rural setting. In that light, it is right that I put on the record my thanks to the trustees under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), and to the staff and many volunteers who ensure that our churches are open to the public. However, the trust is in a time of change. It is appropriate that attention should be given to other ways for buildings to add value to their local communities, and I support that. The trust should look for opportunities to release churches into local management and to divest.

There is a process that any Anglican community goes through when it looks as though a church has become redundant. That lies behind what the hon. Gentleman said. Populations move and circumstances change. In the case of those churches, it will not always fall to the Churches Conservation Trust to apply its expertise. The historic beauty and architectural importance of a church might mean that it should be maintained, even in a new use. Some churches are sold off for housing development or for completely alternative uses because they are not of historic or architectural importance. Those churches will never come to the CCT. Other churches can be demolished.

For some time, the community has been speculating that more redundant churches will come on the books, but that speculation has not become reality recently. Around the same number—25 to 30 churches—fall into that category every year. A quarter of those fall into the category of churches that might require the work of the CCT.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I should like to put on the record a response to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who kindly referred to two churches in my constituency, St. Alfege in Greenwich and St. Nicholas in Deptford. I do not want anyone to think
 
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that those churches are in areas of declining population or that there is any threat to their viability. They both have vibrant congregations. As we are focusing on the question of decline, I want to put it on the record that those two churches do not face that problem. There are examples of former churches in my constituency put to good alternative use, the Christchurch Forum being a splendid example, but the two mentioned are both vibrant, and I am confident that they have a good future.

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful for that, because my right hon. Friend makes a good point. The debate is largely about changing demographics and people’s choice of where to access their faith. Part of that story is great vibrancy in some of our churches, and he points to two in his constituency which remain vibrant. Although some churches in Tottenham, my community, are challenged, many are so vibrant that it is hard to get through the door.

Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is also right to acknowledge that the Bishop of London has asked that the Government share the annual repair bill of £110 million for the church increase. That means that there is a debate taking place. The Government are preparing their response on “Building faith in our future”.

Hon. Members will know that there are many demands in the heritage sector other than from churches. I am talking about the conservation areas in our communities—rural and urban—the many secular buildings, the community halls and other local buildings that are of architectural importance to our various communities. Grants are available. A pub, an underground station or a townscape might be in receipt of assistance from English Heritage. I know that Tottenham High road, one of the great high roads in London, has recently received English Heritage money. When we have the debate about more funds for churches, we need to acknowledge that there are many demands on English Heritage’s resources—£130
 
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million—and that that might well mean that money is taken from other areas to fund churches. Those decisions are, rightly, for English Heritage.

English Heritage has been right to place the emphasis that it has on cathedrals over the most recent period to ensure that the cathedrals in many of our great cities regain the glory that they once had. I think that we are achieving that. English Heritage is right to move now towards doing something further for rural churches in particular. I point the hon. Gentleman to English Heritage’s “Inspired!” campaign. That is not only about funding but about bringing together the existing and new research on the condition of churches and current levels of repair need.

There needs to be more of an audit of what is required and there needs to be an understanding and capacity building in individual Anglican communities in relation to what can be done. There are different strengths in different communities in different parts of the country. “Inspired!” can go some way towards addressing that and examining the factors that lead to vulnerability and redundancy in churches. We need to map those throughout the country so that we can see where churches are at most risk. Alongside the examination of funding, that work will be helpful, and I am glad that it flows from my initiative to bring together all the stakeholders, including the Bishop of London, a few months ago to help us as we prepare to address the “Building faith in our future” document.

I am glad that we have had this debate about funding for our wonderful church buildings that need to move into new uses. As always, it has been a good debate. We have seen good progress. The Churches Conservation Trust continues to do work for varied communities which is valued throughout the country, and as we have seen in Committee, there is support throughout the House for the work that it does.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2006.

Committee rose at two minutes to Five o’clock.

 
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