Published 2nd January 2018
The report of the Taylor Commission which reviewed the sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals has recommended that the Government clarifies the legal powers of parish and town councils to fund church buildings, a matter SLCC in partnership with NALC, has been raising this year with Government officials.
The report states: “Section 8 of the Local Government Act 1894 confers a number of additional powers on a parish council. Among these is the power to execute works subject to the condition that they do not relate to property relating to the affairs of the church. The Local Government Act 1972, however, permits a local authority (whether at county, district or parish council level) to contribute towards the maintenance, repair or adaptation of churches and even possibly levy a parish rate on the basis that the expenditure would be in the interests of, and bring benefits to, some or all of the inhabitants of the area.
Evidence submitted to the Review suggested that there is considerable confusion as to whether the 1972 Act supersedes the Local Government Act 1894, and that the 1894 Act is still perceived as a barrier, preventing investment in church buildings by local authorities. Clarification on this point should be given, whether by repealing section 8 of the 1894 Act, or by the issue of guidance. This should clarify that local authorities can invest in church buildings in accordance with Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972.
Additionally, repeal or the issue of guidance should clarify that certain parish councils are also able to fund church buildings using powers contained in the Localism Act 2011. The Act allows certain parish councils, as long as they meet certain criteria, to pass a resolution which allows them to have the benefit of the so-called “General Power of Competence”. An eligible parish council is one in which at least two-thirds of the members have been elected (i.e. not co-opted), and in which the clerk has completed one of a specified range of training courses. Having passed such a resolution, the relevant parish council would have the power to fund repairs and improvements and changes to church property (albeit it would have to take such a decision in line with its proper internal processes).”
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