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Redundant Churches

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2011

1. Whether the Church Commissioners have made an estimate of the number of redundant churches converted to other uses in the past five years. (33917)

In the last five years, there have been 117 schemes for dealing with churches that are no longer being used as regular places of worship, 93 of which have resulted in their being provided for alternative use.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. St Mary’s church in Nelson is probably the largest church in my constituency, and it has a 170-feet high tower and spire. However, it was last used for worship in 1989, and it has remained boarded up and empty since its deconsecration. Although St Mary’s itself is now owned by a heritage trust, will my hon. Friend tell the House what the Church Commissioners are doing to ensure that redundant churches are put to good use?

Nelson St Mary was closed for worship in 1987. At that point, a decision would have been made whether to transfer it to the Churches Conservation Trust as a redundant church or to sell it. It was sold in 1989, and at that point the Church Commissioners’ responsibility for the building ceased.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many churches can remain in use while adapting to accommodate other uses? Will he commend the work of English Heritage and its field officers in trying to achieve that, and will he so organise the affairs of the Church Commissioners that they encourage and facilitate this kind of continuing useful worship?

Absolutely. Increasingly, churches are being put to other uses, ranging from post offices to shops, and from community centres to internet cafés. There are 19,000 churches across the country and in many communities the church is the most prominent public building, so we want to make sure that churches are used as much as possible, rather than just for a couple of hours each week on a Sunday.