Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Churchyards

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The proposal was to construct a ramp at the front of a 1960s church, facing an access from the road, in order to allow step-free access to the front of the church for the disabled. Objections were based on the design of the ramp, the possibility of its use by skateboarders and consequent safety issues, the fact that there was step-free access to the church from the car park at the rear, and difficulties of loading and unloading at the front of the church. Faculty granted.

The Chancellor determined to grant a faculty to allow part of the churchyard to be reused for burials, but proposed to stay the issue of the faculty until the parish had considered whether to ask for a set of bespoke churchyard regulations limiting the types of stone which could be used for memorials, in order to preserve the character of the unique setting of the small country church set in the middle of a field.

The petition related to the proposed construction of a new extension to the north of the west end of the church, to provide a meeting room, an accessible toilet, a store, and a kitchen. These facilities would replace those provided by a temporary portacabin in the churchyard. The decision turned on the impact of the proposed extension on a yew tree thought to be 700-750 years old. The Chancellor was unwilling to grant a faculty: "It seems to me that the total loss of an ancient or veteran yew ... is equivalent to serious harm to a grade I or II* building, and should only be exceptionally allowed.  In the present case, I accept that it is by no means certain that the new building will cause the loss of the yew, but I consider that the risk of its loss, and the harm that would result if it were to be lost, are sufficiently great that they are not justified by the benefit that would undoubtedly arise from the new building".

The incumbent and churchwardens applied for a faculty to approve a local variation of the Churchyard Regulations. The Chancellor was satisfied that it was appropriate to approve a local set of regulations on aesthetic and practical grounds and to enable better management of the churchyard. It would be a condition of the faculty that families would be required to sign a notice confirming that they would comply with the regulations.