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Churchyards

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The Chancellor granted a faculty the authorise the introduction of 8-10 sheep into one of the three churchyards of the parish, for the purpose of keeping down the vegetation.

The Chancellor granted a faculty for the erection a pre-fabricated timber framed building in the community garden at the side of the church. The building would be supported on concrete blocks and would therefore require the provision of a temporary ramp to allow access for the disabled. The judgment contains a discussion on the need for compliance with the Equality Act 2010.

The Vicar and Churchwardens applied for a faculty to authorise the construction of a church hall, to replace on old shed-like building, on an unconsecrated extension to the churchyard to the east of the church. The new building would, however, encroach very slightly on to the consecrated part of the churchyard extension. The Chancellor granted a faculty, notwithstanding the slight encroachment of the proposed building on the consecrated part of the churchyard.

The Petitioners (the Rector and Churchwardens) sought a faculty to authorise the removal of a panel fence erected by neighbours on what was alleged to be churchyard land; to authorise the erection of a post and rail fence within the churchyard boundary; to give a direction as to the ownership of a stone retaining wall on the boundary and as to the responsibility for its maintenance; and to authorise the implementation of recommendations contained in a report from a company of tree consultants concerning trees and shrubs near the boundary. In the course of the proceedings the Objectors withdrew their claim that the fence they had erected was not on churchyard land and removed the fence. A declaration was given that the retaining wall belonged to the churchyard, and the petitioners were given leave to erect a post and rail fence and plant a double width yew hedge on the churchyard side of the new fence. At the end of the judgment is an additional judgment as to costs.

The Parochial Church Council applied for an injunction to prevent the London Borough of Hounslow from developing a piece of land near the church, claiming that the land was consecrated, and historically had been part of the churchyard, notwithstanding that the Borough Council and its predecessor council had been registered with absolute title in respect of the particular piece of land for 69 years. The Chancellor dismissed the application.

This judgment arose out of a hearing before the Chancellor in Re St. George Hanworth [2016] ECC Lon 1. The issue of costs was referred to the Deputy Chancellor, who determined that the bulk of the costs of the London Borough of Hounslow should be paid by the Parochial Church Council.

The Vicar and Churchwardens sought a faculty to authorise the laying of a drain under a path between the church and the public sewer (with a view to servicing  a new toilet in the church at some time in the future); improvements to the paths and driveway serving the church; and the moving of the seven memorials in the northern section of the churchyard, in order to allow that area of the churchyard to be used as an open space for community use. There were seven letters of objection, but no objector wished to be a party to the proceedings. The Chancellor granted a faculty.

The proposal was to fell a sycamore tree in the churchyard and replace it with smaller suitable trees further away from the church building. The tree was at least 10m taller than the church tower and 5.3m from the church building, resulting in moss on the church roof, black mould on the nearest church buttress and the blocking of gutters and fall pipes during the autumn. A tree specialist also advised that there was a risk of splitting of the four main boughs. The Chancellor as satisfied that there as a good case for removing the tree and granted a faculty.

The Parochial Church Council wished to carry out works extending the church hall, next to the southern boundary of the churchyard, in order to improve the facilities that it affords for uses that are ancillary to the church and for wider community use. The proposed works included removal of two trees; relocation of memorials; removal and rebuilding gate post; resurfacing of the path. Letters of objection were submitted by eight parishioners, of whom one withdrew and two became formal objectors. The Chancellor stated that the test to be applied was not the test laid down in Re St. Alkmund Duffield [2001] (which applied to listed buildings) but the test set out by Lord Penzance in Peek v Trower [1881]: "All presumption is to be made in favour of things as they stand.  If you and others propose to alter them, the burden is cast upon you to shew that you will make things better than they are – that the church will be more convenient, more fit for the accommodation of the parishioners who worship there, more suitable, more appropriate, or more adequate to its purpose than it was before; and if you cannot shew this to the court, at least shew the court that a majority of those for whose worship the church exists desires the alterations which you propose." The Chancellor determined that the test had been satisfied. Faculty granted.

The petitioners sought permission to replace a bench surrounding a tree in the churchyard. They submitted with the petition a report by a firm of arboriculturalists, which indicated that the tree was in a dangerous condition and should be removed. The Chancellor gave directions that he would not grant permission unless the petitioners were able to produce evidence that the tree was not as dangerous as had been suggested in the report. The petitioners submitted a report from a tree expert employed by the borough council, who said that the tree was basically sound, showed "excellent signs of vitality", and a Quantified Tree Risk Assessment had suggested that risk was at a tolerable level. The Chancellor granted a faculty for the new bench, subject to some lower branches of the tree being removed, as recommended by the borough council tree expert.