Places of Worship

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 17th May 2006.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 11:00 am, 17th May 2006

It does not matter which county, town or city of England one chooses, there are beautiful, small, great, sometimes grand churches everywhere, and no two are alike. We see the magnificence of wool churches and the splendour of the perpendicular style, where the perpendicular nave is little more than a stone framework for a gorgeous blaze of colour in stained glass—a style adapted to a country where the sun is a friend to be welcomed. There are small Saxon churches, grim, solid Norman churches in the style of their heavy-handed conquerors, early English churches and decorated churches. As Jeremy Paxman observed last week:

"Church spires are the great punctuation points of the English countryside. For the religious buildings of this country not only tell where we are geographically, they tell us where we have come from.

They are often the only place in the community which has a living, visible connection with the past. They hotwire us into our history."

And as Sir John Betjeman observed:

"From churches blue with incense mist, their reredos' twinkle gold

Chapels of ease by railway lines, and humble streets with smells of gas

I hear your plaintive ting tangs call from many a gabled western wall

To morning prayer or Holy Mass.

In country churches old and pale I hear the changes smoothly rung

And watch the coloured sallies fly from rugged hands to rafters high

As round and back the bells are swung."

Our places of worship are frequently places of architectural importance. English Heritage has statutorily listed 14,500 places of worship, many of them mediaeval. I have initiated this debate to support the "Inspired!" campaign by English Heritage, which is supported by many denominations and faith groups—Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Jewish and Methodist—and trusts and organisations such as Friends of Friendless Churches, the Historic Churches Preservation Trust and the Open Churches Trust. In a recent letter to me, the Minister made it clear that he and the Government agreed

"about the importance of church buildings both as a focus for local communities and as an important part of our National Heritage and in vital services."

The Minister went on to observe:

"The forthcoming English Heritage 'Inspired!' campaign will be vital in providing information that will help the Government, churches and English Heritage itself in deciding where support would be most effectively targeted."

And he concluded that he was excited by English Heritage's campaign and would certainly be looking carefully at the results.

There is no ambiguity about what English Heritage is saying to the Government. Ministers do not have to wait; the facts are stark. Thousands of churches and other places of worship are crumbling and in danger because of a multi-million pound shortfall in funds needed to keep them standing. In its briefing for the "Inspired!" campaign, subtitled, "Securing a Future for Historic Places of Worship", English Heritage makes it clear that

"new research which English Heritage has just completedshows that although congregations valiantly managed to raise £67 million each year, the yearly amount actually needed for repair and maintenance is £185 million. That means there is a staggering £118 million annual shortfall which English Heritage and other grant making bodies simply cannot fill."

I recently undertook a survey in just one small part of my constituency, the Deddington deanery. I asked for an estimate of what parishes thought the cost of repairs and maintenance would be over the next five years. Adderbury church, which is a very fine parish church, of which John Piper did a very beautiful picture, will require £250,000. Banbury St. Mary's, which is a grade I listed church in the centre of Banbury, estimates that it will need £220,000.

I visited St. Mary's last Friday with the vicar, Janet Chapman, and the area dean, Ben Phillips. It is a magnificent church, built in honey-coloured Hornton stone, with a green copper cupola. The difficulty is that the copper on the cupola and the lead that seals the stone expand and wear at differing rates, so leadmen are now on the church roof in Banbury repairing the lead. Of course, with any of those exercises, there are now considerable and understandable associated health and safety costs.

It is estimated that Bloxham parish church, which Simon Jenkins considers to be architecturally one of the best 1,000 parish churches in England, will need £100,000. Indeed, Bloxham only recently had to spend approximately £85,000 on repairing the spire, which can be seen at 4 o'clock on Sunday in a programme on television about steeplejacks, starring Tony Robinson of "Blackadder" fame.

I shall not take hon. Members through every churchin the Deddington deanery, but the total came to£1.5 million: that is what the community needs to raise over the next five years simply to maintain the fabric of buildings of considerable historic interest in one deanery in one county. English Heritage estimates that the cost of repairing all England's 14,500 statutorily listed places of worship would be £925 million—almost £1 billion over the next five years.

English Heritage is making some extremely modest requests of the Government. The thrust of its campaign is about understanding the problems of the need to repair crumbling churches and taking action before crisis is reached. That crisis is approaching—it will strike, perhaps not this year or next year, but certainly in the near future. English Heritage has a five-point plan, which I commend to the Minister and invite the Government to support.

English Heritage wants to make places of worship fit for purpose in the 21st century by reforming heritage protection legislation. It is asking the Government for a one-off payment of £2.52 million to allow it to rewrite outdated list descriptions for all grade I listed places of worship. The Government's own planning policy guidance observes:

"Generally the best way of securing the upkeep of historic buildings and areas is to keep them in active use. "

The best way to secure the future of churches of historic and architectural significance is to ensure that they remain, if possible, living buildings at the heart of communities—visited, valued and enjoyed by all. As with any other listed building, a balance must be struck between changing patterns of use and the protection of the special architectural and historical interest for which the building has been listed. St. Mary's in Banbury, for example, is at the very heart of the town and is now used for public meetings, concerts and exhibitions.

Sensibly, English Heritage wants to develop partnerships between everyone concerned, to encourage planning ahead and a positive rather than reactive approach to the management of church buildings. English Heritage is asking the Government for £8 million a year for three years for various purposes. Those purposes include helping congregations to help themselves by appointing advisers in denominations who can offer support and expertise, helping communities and congregations to understand the repair priorities, and then helping individual congregations to make the most of their buildings.

Another use for the funding would be to create a maintenance grant scheme to shrink repair bills in the longer term. English Heritage wants to start a new maintenance grants programme to help the congregations that are least able to fund maintenance themselves. For example, the diocese of London is undertaking a private study in the City of London of the benefits of a centralised gutter clearance service, so that the gutters on all churches in the diocese, as well as vicarages and church halls, can be cleared twice a year. The diocese employs a contractor to clear the gutters and downpipes and check the drains, and while on the roof the contractor also undertakes emergency repair work such as fixing slipped slates. A simple checklist and digital photographs are used to show the condition of the roof and gutters and even hard-to-reach places, providing good information about what repairs are required. That is sensible "a stitch in time saves nine" work.

The funding could also be used to maintain a joint English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund repair grant scheme and augment it with a small grant scheme. The joint English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund repair grants for places of worship scheme is the largest single source of funds for repairs to listed places of worship in England. It gives out£25 million a year, but it is 100 per cent. over-subscribed. Government funding for English Heritage has remained static and, as a consequence, so have its grants schemes. The allocations from the lottery to the Heritage Lottery Fund have also declined, and although it continues to help places of worship with other grant schemes, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund help fewer congregations each year. English Heritage is therefore modestly asking the Government for an extra £4 million a year for three years, to start a grant scheme to help those congregations that are most in need to carry out smaller repairs. With that extra £4 million, they will be able to double the number of repair projects that English Heritage can support each year.

Lastly, English Heritage wants to make sure that safety nets are in place for redundant places of worship. It is an inescapable fact that, although four out of five people express a religious affiliation, the number of active worshippers has fallen. That, together with demographic changes, means that some areas have more places of worship than the remaining community can support. Some of those buildings are conveyed to the Churches Conservation Trust. Yet, since 2001, the trust's funds have been frozen, while, in the same period, it has been given responsibility for another 12 churches, most with big repair bills. The Friends of Friendless Churches, a small charity set up to save disused places of worship of architectural and historic interest from demolition, has already helped to save 100 churches and chapels in England and Wales. Not unreasonably, English Heritage is calling on the Government to reinflate funding of the Churches Conservation Trust as the main safety net for redundant Church of England buildings that are too architecturally and historically important to be deconsecrated.

In all, English Heritage is asking the Governmentfor the incredibly modest sum of slightly more than£26 million over the next three years. I hope that the Minister will not consider me churlish if I put that sum into context by pointing out that it is almost exactly the same amount as the Home Office squandered and threw away on the costs of the preparatory work of building an asylum centre in my constituency, where no actual work was done—not a single sod turned, not a stone erected. The sum that English Heritage is requesting is modest indeed.

In fairness, I acknowledge that the Government have recently demonstrated their concern about historic places of worship. In the 2006 Budget, the Chancellor decided to extend further the scheme that means that churches are, in effect, spared the cost of VAT on repairs. I think that everyone who is concerned about a future for historic places of worship would thank the Chancellor for extending the scheme that refunds VAT to those important buildings. However, as English Heritage research has shown, much more needs to be done to avert a crisis.

The Government do not need any further information. In a letter to me in March, the Minister said that the

"forthcoming English Heritage 'Inspired!' campaign will fill some of the gaps in our current knowledge of the extent of the problem and enable Church and Government to plan effectively for the future."

Well, there is no ambiguity in English Heritage's briefing. It is asking for a modest amount. I hope that the Ministers will shortly be able to confirm that the Government will support English Heritage's campaign in full, but even if the Government do everything that English Heritage wants, more will still need to bedone. There will be work for congregations and for communities.

In my village of Bloxham, for example, we have set up the Friends of St. Mary's—a group of local people who recognise the considerable importance of the church as a building of significance in the life and landscape of the village. In the past three years, ithas raised approximately £30,000 for the repair, maintenance and fabric of St. Mary's church. As Simon Jenkins observes:

"Bloxham is a steeple, a window and a chapel. The steeple is a work of art in itself, early 14th century and the finest in Oxfordshire. The octagon and spire rise 200 ft. almost sheer from the road. Every surface of the tower is carved! Below the parapet is a frieze of men and beasts. The West doorway arch has carvings of the apostles in small niches. The masons seem to have usurped all conventions and set free their imagination."

He further observes that Bloxham, like many churches, has had things of beauty added over the centuries so that

"the last phase of Bloxham's development came with Street's restoration and employment of Morris & Co. to the glass. The chancel and interior is largely Street, as are the pulpit, choir stalls and marble reredos. The chancel window glass is an early masterpiece by Morris, Burne-Jones and Webb. It depicts saints, angels and King Alfred set before the heavenly city. The colours are bold and the effect dramatic. Even more lovely is the vividly coloured window of St. Christopher in the South wall of the chancel which was executed in 1920 to a Burne-Jones design."

The debate is not simply about English churches. The issue should be of concern to every Member of the House whether they represent city, suburb or countryside. English Heritage launched its "Inspired!" campaign in St. Mary Magdalene, Paddington, which is regarded as an exceptional grade I example of high Victorian gothic. Perhaps because of its proximity to the Grand Union canal, incoming waters threaten the church's internal decoration.

Colleagues do not have to wander far from the House to find London churches that are breathtaking in their beauty. We can see the galleries at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which are a normal feature in Georgian churches; the lavish asphodel sanctuary of St. James the Less in Pimlico; the heavy Norman piers of St. Bartholomew-the-Great; Inigo Jones's St. Paul's in Covent Garden;St. Augustine's in Kilburn, which is one of the most important Victorian churches in London; All Saints, Margaret street in Marylebone, which has breathtaking panel painting of Victorian polychrome; as well as St. Alfege in Greenwich, St. Giles in Camberwell, St. Barnabas in Dulwich, St. Mary in Rotherhithe, St. Anne in Limehouse and Christchurch in Spitalfields. Every town and city has churches of significance and value. Those should not be crumbling; they should be a real asset to the community in which they are found. We have a collective duty to save our historic churches from rot and ruin.

Not surprisingly, in an article in The Guardian last Friday, Simon Jenkins observed that

"the English parish church nationwide" is a

"dispersed museum of history, art and architecture".

Everyone who cares for England and for our heritage should consider paying a small amount for the upkeep of a local church or making a donation to a national charity that cares for places of worship. Even if one is not in a position to make a monetary contribution, many hundreds of people contribute to the upkeep of churches of historic significance by helping with fundraising, mowing the grass or simply keeping the furniture dusted and the churches polished. Our churches and places of worship—whether church, mosque or synagogue—are a shared treasure, a shared heritage and a shared challenge. I am sure that the churches and communities can rise to that challenge. It would be good if the Government could lead the way.

I conclude with a poem written by Andrew Motion, in support of English Heritage's "Inspired!" campaign:

"In the mind's eye, in the memory-store, for now

The church sets sail but stays where it was built,

Its anchor hooked into the parish-heart.

In the green yard, in the deep grass, for now

Each summer-tide swells up and leaves the dead

Untouched inside their plots of tilted earth.

In the flint nave, in the window-shafts, for now

The glassy saints grow limber with the sun

That ripples through their robes and walk again.

In the blind vault, in the dry hush, for now

The coffins hoard their argosies of dust

And darkness gleams as definite as light.

In the slow years, in the centuries, for now

The villagers arrive to load the ark

That saves their lives and settles here as home.

If, as a nation, we do not respect and preserve our past, what is our future? It is through the churches of England that we learn who we were and thus who we are and who we might become. If we lose that learning, we lose the collective memory that is the essence ofus all.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Culture) 11:17 am, 17th May 2006

I thank Tony Baldry for securing this debate. It is not often that we hear the poet laureate quoted in full in the hallowed corridors of Westminster, and we are all grateful. This is, as the hon. Gentleman will know, an issue of great importance to me, both as the Minister with responsibility for culture and on a personal level.

Let me start by making it clear that the Government fully recognise the importance of our historic churches. Historic places of worship are an invaluable part of this nation's heritage. They represent the finest of our historic buildings and are showpieces of the most accomplished design and workmanship. From Canterbury cathedral, to the Shah Jehan mosque in Woking, or the historic Cheltenham synagogue, they help to tell the story of this country in a way that no other group of buildings can, and they are a vital part of teaching us about who we are and where wecome from.

Beyond that, historic places of worship host an array of vital services that are often forgotten, ranging from nursery groups and lunch clubs for the elderly in our communities, to many sporting activities after school and on weekends for our young people. They can only do that thanks to the armies of volunteers attached to churches. The Church of England alone constitutes the largest voluntary organisation in the country and is present in every part of England. With that importance in mind, the Government have in place a range of policies and funding designed to support our historic places of worship.

We ensure the protection of historic churches through the listing system. More than 45 per cent. of grade I listed buildings are churches. The heritage protection reforms that we intend to introduce in the coming years will make that protection system work more effectively for owners, managers and users of those buildings. We provide substantial funding to contribute to the upkeep of historic places of worship. Funding already in place from Government and lottery sources will total around £60 million this year.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, congregations carry the large burden of dealing with the repair bills of our parish churches for leaky roofs, broken windows, repointing and so on. That is why we created a unique scheme to tackle the problem: the listed places of worship grant scheme. A unique scheme within the heritage sector funding system, it returns the VAT paid on repairs to listed places of worship. Approximately 8,000 churches have benefited and more than£43 million has been paid out since 2001 to those churches. The scheme provides an average of £1 million a month to support those churches and it is important that that is on the record. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that the scheme would continue until 2011 and would be extended to cover professional fees and repairs to clocks, pews, bells and organs. That extension and extensions to the linked memorials grant scheme mean that £70 million of new money has been committed.

Alongside that targeted help on VAT, another major part of the funding that is already in place is the joint repair scheme for places of worship operated by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. That scheme is worth around £25 million this year, and with this year's grant has paid almost £90 million since it began. This year, the repair scheme will, for example, enable St. Mary's, Tunstead in Norfolk to repair its magnificent 15th century arch-braced roof: £136,000 has been offered as a grant.

In addition, my Department provides £3 million a year to support the Churches Conservation Trust, which looks after the finest of the churches that are no longer needed for regular worship. The trust does an excellent job of conserving the 335 historic churches in its care and is increasingly giving consideration to how its churches can be opened up for greater use by local communities.

English Heritage gives £1 million a year for cathedral repairs. The £40 million given under the scheme since 2001 has seen a major backlog of repairs in our cathedrals all but eradicated. In addition, the Heritage Lottery Fund puts more money into churches for repairs, new works, conservation, treasures and events. Including its contribution to the joint scheme, the HLF has put £300 million into church and cathedral buildings since 1994. Approximately 9 per cent. of all the money given by the HLF goes to our historic churches and faith buildings.

Our support for historic places of worship is not only about the heritage protection system and direct funding. It is about trying to reflect the needs of those buildings in wider Government policy making. That is why my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been looking at the contribution that faith buildings make to community cohesion in rural areas. Funding such as the £12.5 million faith communities capacity funding is in place to support churches and to empower local people. All of that will help to keep those buildings alive and in use.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, by any analysis, that is a substantial package of support and one of which the Government should be proud. Of course, there is always more to be done and the hon. Gentleman highlighted English Heritage's "Inspired!" campaign that was launched last week. English Heritage's research is extremely valuable and improves our knowledge of the state of repair of our national church buildings. The hon. Gentleman will have seen, for example, that the diocese of Oxford has been shown to have a large number of churches in need, although that diocese also has the most churches of all the dioceses in England. That information is enormously helpful and we would like that sort of approach to be taken with a wider range of historic buildings.

We also welcome the English Heritage pilot studies and capacity-building activities, both planned and ongoing, which will help to inform debate in the coming years and show whether funding is appropriately targeted. As English Heritage's work makes clear, we need an effective partnership between Government, church denominations, heritage specialists and the public.

The challenge facing us is not small. Church buildings' estimated repair need is considerable. As I said, we are helping the churches to meet that challenge through a comprehensive package of funding; but we need to move forward and we must do so together. Our assistance can only be partly about money. It is also about giving church organisations access to support networks and advice at national, regional and local levels. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that too many congregations remain isolated from that information and advice. We need to improve our knowledge of what works to keep churches in use, and consider innovative ways to keep churches as living buildings in their communities. "Inspired!" will help towards that.

It is clear that although some dioceses and parishes are able to spread good practice and move forward, to maintain their buildings and move forward, and to apply for grants from English Heritage or the Heritage Lottery Fund and move forward, others remain more isolated, have less capacity, and are less able to do that. We must tackle that problem together.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

English Heritage has asked for£26 million. We are just about to start another spending round, and bids will be made to the Treasury. Will the Minister give the House some indication of whether his Department will press the Treasury for the money that English Heritage has requested as part of that spending round?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Culture)

As any Minister would say, one does not give funding commitments when one is entering the spending round. Now is the time for dialogue and discussion about what are the significant issues. By any analysis, the £130 million that we give English Heritage as a non-departmental public body is a large sum. The organisation has been able to find efficiency savings to put back into the front line, it has responded to a quinquennial review, and a peer review is approaching. The Government will certainly take that work forward as we enter into the spending round.

As English Heritage has pointed out, and as the Bishop of London recognised when he spoke at Synod in February, the work is not for the Government alone. The churches face a major challenge to galvanise further support. We are told that 89 per cent. of the population visited a place of worship during the past year, and we know that even non-churchgoers have an affiliation and affection for the village church. Churches need to capture and capitalise on that support.

I know that hard-pressed volunteers work miracles when it comes to fundraising, as well as undertaking vital community services. We need to consider whether church buildings can be enjoyed in new ways—as visitor attractions, educational resources, or centres of community activity—all of which open up alternative routes for funding. We need to discover whether existing community services and new alterative uses for churches can attract new sources of funding, and we must ensure that they get that funding.

We in Government will continue to listen to and work with the denominations and faith communities, as we seek to secure a sustainable future for our historic churches. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that in the coming years.

Sitting suspended until half past Two o'clock