The long-awaited Taylor review of the sustainability of listed Church of England churches and cathedrals has duly appeared – and recommends sweeping changes to the organisation and funding of church repairs and maintenance.
Churches are currently trapped in a cycle of neglect followed by avoidable repair for some, at extravagant, and often Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided expense, while many of the rest are left deteriorating.
HLF and Historic England have long refused to grant-aid routine maintenance, despite its obvious conservation and financial advantages. Some churches that skimp on maintenance have even actively welcomed being added to the “at risk” registers run by Historic England and its equivalents because it is the passport to getting HLF grants.
So Maintain welcomes the Taylor recommendations. “The penny seems to have dropped in Whitehall and Church House that maintenance saves money,” says Maintain chair George Allan. “Let’s just say that this realisation, although long overdue, is very welcome.”
The review, originally set up by Chancellor George Osborne in 2016, was tasked with “exploring new models of financing repairs and maintenance of churches …including maintenance costs and repairs funding from lottery and central government grants” as well as making recommendations on the wider community use of churches.
In effect, the Report recommends that wider community use of historic churches is the rationale for spending public money – more wisely than at present – on church maintenance.
The recommendations include the piloting of a scheme to appoint Community Support Advisers to help parishes open up their churches to local users, and Fabric Support Officers to ensure that parishes maintain their churches properly, helped by access to a “Minor Repairs Fund”.
Maintain’s evidence to the Review estimated that the Church of England had a repairs backlog of £1.5bn on its 12,000 listed churches alone (at 2013 prices) and that this was rising at £70M a year.
The recommendations are also an implicit rebuke to the major grant-giving organisations, notably Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, which have pursued policies of refusing to grant-aid, or incentivise, maintenance, rather than repair.
This is the third report to have appeared in recent weeks making the same implicit criticism – the others being the Mendoza report on Museums and Galleries and a DCMS report on the top 16 directly-funded museums and galleries.
Maintain intends to be actively involved in the creation of new arrangements to ensure that churches are better maintained from now on.