Church hall upgrade approved after legal ruling

An artist’s impression of the Warwick Hall refurbishment

An artist’s impression of the Warwick Hall refurbishment

First published in News

MULTI-MILLION pound work to redevelop a West Oxfordshire church hall could begin in the next few weeks after a two-year legal wrangle in a religious court.

St John the Baptist Church in Burford has now been granted approval by the Church of England’s consistory court to carry out the £3.5m work at nearby Warwick Hall.

West Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission in May 2012, but residents and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings were concerned about the removal of two trees, temporary relocation of five gravestones, rebuilding of a gate post and path resurfacing.

They appealed to the consistory court, meaning the building work was automatically unlawful, unless it was granted a “faculty” by the court’s judge, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford.

Church of England spokesman Arun Arora said a “faculty” is permission to amend or dispose of church property, such as making changes to a church building.

The judge, the Rev and Worshipful Alexander McGregor, overruled the automatic judgment on Tuesday last week, saying current facilities are “inadequate.”

Work will now be carried out in the 12th Century St John’s churchyard to allow improved access to the church hall, with a new community facility built.

Rev Richard Coombs, rector of the church, said: “We’re delighted with the judgment – this is the final hurdle in getting permission to build the new community facility. We want to convert our old Victorian church hall into a 21st century community centre. We see this as a tangible way of demonstrating our commitment to the community.”

The church raised money for the development from donations and a loan by the congregation and grants from bodies including the Burford Charity Trustees and Falkland Hall Trust.

Plans include creating a new entrance to the churchyard, refurbishing the current hall and creating a larger second hall.

A consistory court explained

A consistory court hearing is held when a formal objection is made to a church’s application for a faculty

Church of England spokesman Arun Arora said a “faculty” is permission to amend or dispose of church property, like making changes to a church building

A hearing can also be held if a parish wants to sell a valuable or historic item

The court hears evidence on oath and legal argument from both parties’ legal representatives, such as in other courts, or they can represent themselves

About two court hearings are held on average a year in the Diocese of Oxford

Mr Arora said: “In general terms, hearings are not frequently held because if an application for a faculty is straightforward and no-one objects it can be granted on consideration of the papers.”

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