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Call for Government aid to tackle ‘significant and growing’ church repair costs

By PA News

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The Church of England’s parish churches have a “significant and growing maintenance deficit”, prompting calls for Government intervention.

The outstanding capital cost of “necessary” repairs across its 16,000 parish churches is estimated at £1 billion over the next five years, according to the Church of England (CoE).

“At best parishes currently raise and spend approximately half of that annually, so there remains a significant and growing maintenance deficit on these beautiful and treasured buildings,” according to Conservative MP Andrew Selous, who as the second estates commissioner speaks for the CoE in the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Andrew Selous (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)
Conservative MP Andrew Selous (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

His comment came in response to a written parliamentary question from Alex Stafford, the Conservative MP for Rother Valley.

Mr Stafford said he wants the Government to step in, warning the cost of repairs will only increase if left unaddressed.

He told the PA news agency: “I have a lot of churches in my constituency which are not in a good state of repair.

“I think the UK is very blessed with beautiful churches and a great heritage and history and we have a duty to keep them and restore them and make sure they are maintained.”

He said: “It’s worrying there’s this huge shortfall between how much is needed every year – so £200 million – and how much churches are actually putting into it.

“And that problem is going to increase. If we don’t get these repairs now, they get worse and worse and worse, and the churches get worse and worse and worse.

“And I very much believe the Government need to protect them because they are the history of our country. They have been there, many of them, for hundreds of years, we need to maintain that link from the past.”

Conservative MP Alexander Stafford addresses the House of Commons (PA)
Conservative MP Alexander Stafford addresses the House of Commons (PA)

He added: “To me this is not necessarily about religion, it’s about our history. But I think the biggest issue we have had recently is Covid, which has completely hammered churches’ finances because they haven’t been able to raise that money for repairs. They do need and rely more now than ever on Government support to step in and fill that shortfall.

“I think the Government should step in. And whether it’s funding all of it, or at least part funding it, or trying a new funding model to help the churches do their repairs, because if we don’t, it’s £1 billion now for the next five years, but it’s going to be worse if you don’t do those repairs.”

The CoE said there are a number of local and national grant bodies which churches can apply to for funds, but that there is still likely to be a significant shortfall.

It also said the church commissioners have committed to provide £930 million over the period 2020-22, but that this money covers a range of expenditure and there is no national funding specifically for church maintenance and repairs, with CoE maintenance funding usually raised locally.

A spokesman said: “The Church of England through its parishes and cathedrals cares for around 16,000 church buildings – 12,500 of which are listed, including 45% of all England’s Grade I listed buildings. They are a precious resource for the whole nation and a presence in every community providing spiritual, pastoral and practical support – something which is more vital than ever.

“They are, of course, expensive to maintain and there is a shortfall between what local parishes, which are independent charities, are able to raise and the estimated cost of repairs, as there has long been.

“A broad estimate of the outstanding capital cost of necessary repairs to parish churches over the next five years is approximately £1 billion; an additional estimated £140 million is required by our 42 cathedrals.”

They said the church creates social and economic value, adding: “We are extremely grateful for that support but the need continues and, together with other faith groups and heritage organisations, the Church of England is engaging with Government departments in the run-up to the spending review.”

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