Charity wins court case to preserve Grade I church in Poynings

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The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) won a court case this month involving a proposal to Grade I listed Holy Trinity church in Poynings.

In 2015 the SPAB was invited to consult on proposals to install underfloor heating in the south transept of the church.

The SPAB seeks, wherever possible, to support proposals that ensure the continued use of church buildings.

A SPAB spokesman

The parish’s proposals included the introduction of underfloor heating in this space, without repair works to deal with the damp.

The parish also proposed to cover the damp problem under a new floor.

A SPAB spokesman said: “The atmospheric south transept, often called the Poynings Chantry Chapel, contains a number of medieval burial monuments which mark the resting place of generations of the De Poynings family – the ancient benefactors of the current church.

“These burial monuments are highly significant, not just because of their considerable age, but because they also tell the story of the church and its founders.

“Across the south transept’s entrance is a late 14th century screen probably originally part of the rood screen moved here in the mid-19th century. “Given the south transept’s provenance as chantry chapel and the importance of the monuments and the screen, it is one of the most important and historic spaces in the ancient church.

“Despite its significance, the south transept is in a bad state of repair – a higher ground level outside the building has caused damp to penetrate the walls and floor of the south transept putting the already worn burial memorials at further risk of damage.

“The SPAB believes that the proposed electric under floor heating would not have had the beneficial effect that the parish had anticipated.

“Not only would this have worsened the damp issues it would have buried the medieval monuments of the founders of the church in perpetuity under a modern floor.

“The south transept cannot be enclosed due to the medieval screen and under floor heating is only effective in a building in regular use.

“The SPAB sympathises with the church’s dilemma – finding an affordable solution to creating a comfortable space to diversify activities – and is acutely aware that this issue is affecting churches across the country.

“The SPAB seeks, wherever possible, to support proposals that ensure the continued use of church buildings.”

The SPAB is the UK’s oldest conservation charity and must be notified of any applications that involve works to listed churches under the ecclesiastical exemption from listed building consent.

Challenging these works and winning at Consistory Court level means that the SPAB’s practical and conservative approach to conserving old buildings has been added to church case law.

Emma Lawrence, head of casework at the SPAB, added: “This was an important case for the SPAB and for the wider sector as it knocks on the head the notion that all schemes to make churches more comfortable for the congregation should be allowed on the grounds of public benefit and mission, outweighing heritage considerations. It shows that alternative, non-invasive proposals need to be given due consideration and that proper expert assessment is required.”