Irish Council of Churches. Irish Inter-Church Meeting

A Consultation on Ecclesiastical Exemption

Irish Council of Churches





© Simon Mills/ICC 2014

Under Section 85(8) of the Planning (NI) Act 2011, listed ecclesiastical buildings are exempted from the need to apply for Listed Building Consent for changes that may affect their architectural or historic interest. In practice this means that Listed Building Consent is not required for:

  • Works to a listed building whose primary use is as a place of worship and which is currently being used as a place of worship;
  • Works to an object or structure within such a building; and
  • Works to an object or structure fixed to the outside of such a building or within its curtilage, except where such an object or structure is itself listed.

Total demolition is not exempt.

Following a review undertaken by the DoE’s Historic Environment Division (HED) and the Historic Buildings Council for Northern Ireland, the Environment Minister has concluded that a change is needed to bring listed ecclesiastical buildings into the standard consent regime for listed buildings, ‘with safeguards to ensure that liturgical requirements of users are taken into account’. The DoE is therefore proposing to remove the exemption from Listed Building Consent for ‘an ecclesiastical building which is for the time being used for ecclesiastical purposes or would be so used but for the works’. 

The consequence of removing the exemption is that Listed Building Consent will be required for any works involving complete or partial demolition of a listed place of worship, or for its alteration or extension in a manner which will affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The HED will participate in the process of assessing applications for Listed Building Consent as a statutory consultee to the new council planning authorities. These authorities will be advised to consider styles of worship and liturgical requirements when assessing applications.

Probable implications for congregations and denominations include:

  • Loss of freedom in making changes to interiors (e.g. removal of balconies and pews, relocation or removal of pipe organs, placement of PowerPoint screens);
  • Difficulties in disposing of buildings; and
  • Additional delays in doing works.

Planning permission must be obtained for any alteration or extension that materially affects the external appearance of an existing place of worship. The DoE has not previously required listed places of worship to obtain planning permission for external minor works (replacing windows and doors, removing render, changing roof details). However, the DoE is also now proposing to clarify through guidance that planning permission is required for such works.

The Irish Council of Churches wishes to bring this issue to the attention of all of our member churches and to encourage those effected by the proposed policy to respond to the consultation by its closing date of 13th June. 

The full consultation document from the Department of the Environment can be accessed here.