Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Brethren’s Gospel Trusts (L 24)

1. This submission is made representing religious charitable trusts using about 400 halls for over 15,000 persons of the Brethren's Christian Fellowship spread across the majority of the Core Cities and many towns in the UK. Increase in numbers attending together with renewal of existing halls causes many trusts to have an active construction programme for new halls.

2. The spread across the UK means that in any given area right down to neighbourhoods members of the Fellowship are always in a minority. This has brought much difficulty when seeking policy and planning permission for a place of worship. When an application is submitted neighbourhoods often become subject to small numbers of persons dominating residents associations and putting intimidatory pressure on local Councillors.

3. Currently in a shire town on an officers recommendation a formal site specific proposal for a new hall has gone through to the Consultation Draft Allocations and Designations DPD which is published with a site duly allocated for a new place of worship and car park. This has attracted adverse comments in the local press apparently at the instigation of a local Councillor who lives opposite the site and does not wish to see a building. Residents have now signed a petition to the council (762 signatures) and submitted some 300 letters against the proposal, claiming that the local residents want allotments not places of worship.

4. Parliament may give authority but the act of decentralisation unchecked will empower the hands of selfish interests who are often acting with little sense of wider civic responsibilities delaying and adding many thousands of pounds to the cost. Minority community groups proposing developments therefore must be protected from the action of selfishness which is part of human nature.

5. We see nothing on the face of the Bill which protects minorities in this situation. It is not unique to the Brethren's Christian Fellowship as various appeal decisions have shown. The debate on anti-Semitism in Westminster Hall on 20 January 2011 touched on issues of anti-religious feeling impinging on the lives of law abiding citizens.

6. The Secretary of State has stated "For years, faith communities have been quietly making a huge difference day-in and day-out, to every single neighbourhood in the country - something that has not been sufficiently recognised by central Government". ( Lambeth Palace 19 July 2010) In a 12 page paper titled "Spatial Planning for Churches" we have reported to CLG an overview of the planning problems encountered in the past 6 years. This is available to members of the Bill Committee on request.

7. We plead that the issue of protection by policy for minorities in the community should be on the face of the bill and suggest that this can only be met by a presumption in favour of developments for the voluntary and community sector and faith communities in particular.

January 2011