Communities Minister Paul Givan, MLA, has today announced that the exemption from Listed Building Consent for places of worship will remain in place.
Under the Planning Act (NI) 2011, churches are subject to planning permission but do not need to apply for Listed Building Consent when carrying out changes that might affect their architectural and historic interest. In March 2016, the former Department of the Environment issued a public consultation on proposals to remove ecclesiastical exemption.
The responses to the consultation, of which there were 122, indicated strong opposition from churches to the removal of the exemption for reasons including religious liberty, the systems already in place in churches to approve alterations, and the need for churches to be able to fulfil their mission – using their buildings to do this. In contrast, groups concerned with the protection of the historic environment and the district councils that replied supported the proposed extension of listed building controls.
Speaking about retaining the exemption Minister Givan said: “My decision to leave the ecclesiastical exemption in place has been taken after full consideration of the consultation responses.
“I believe that close engagement by my officials and district council officials with church authorities can support effective decision making as regards changes to places of worship.”
This discussion will take two forms:
- For larger organisations, the Department for Communities (DfC) will put in place partnering arrangements, governed by a Memorandum of Understanding or similar, which will enable structured engagement with governing bodies at a Northern Ireland level. This engagement will review developing best practice and agree appropriate changes to relevant guidance and processes.
- For smaller organisations and individual self-governing places of worship, the Department will provide appropriate guidance on changes to places of worship which enhances the advice already available.
Continuing, the Minister said: “I believe that this approach is proportionate in addressing the issues raised and will continue to allow worshipping communities to adapt their buildings in response to their mission whilst taking account of architectural considerations and community association with these important buildings. My Department working closely with those responsible for listed places of worship will monitor the effectiveness of these arrangements.”