Many churches in the diocese have experienced theft of lead and other metal roof coverings and items (gutters, down pipes and so on) in recent months.  The Ecclesiastical Insurance Office reports a ten-fold increase in claims during the last year or so; and some churches have been targeted two or three times, with replacement lead being removed on the second or third visit.

Understandably, churchwardens and PCCs have in some cases expressed real anxiety about the replacement costs involved.  EIO have indicated that they will cap the cover they provide in some if not all cases, at £5,000.00.  Inevitably, this raises the question whether lead or other metals should be used, or whether cheaper alternative roof covering (such as roofing felt) may be used.  The anxiety is particularly acute in those cases where the building is extremely vulnerable through isolation or lack of effective means to maintain vigilance.  It can seem pointless to re-use expensive metal coverings, only to have them disappear again within weeks or months.

English Heritage has now issued a helpful statement of its own advice.  I attach a copy.  EH’s views need to be taken seriously, not least because it is a major provider of grants for church repairs, including repairs to roofs.  The chancellor will always want to have EH’s views as he considers faculty applications in these circumstances (though he is not ultimately bound by them).

EH emphasises that each case needs to be considered on its own merits, but its general position is that it will always seek to encourage the use of authentic and appropriate metal replacement materials, especially on roofs.  However, it acknowledges that there will be some cases in which this may not be appropriate.  These would include buildings that have already experienced one incident of theft, and in which there is no reasonable way to implement effective security measures.

Ultimately, it will always be for the Chancellor to make the final decision on what kind of materials should be used.  He will take into account the advice that he receives both from English Heritage and from the Diocesan Advisory Committee (and any conservation bodies that need to be consulted, such as the Victorian Society); but he too will consider each application entirely on its own merits.

In the first instance, if you experience theft of lead or other materials, please contact Mary Saunders and myself immediately so that the Chancellor can grant an emergency faculty to enable immediate protective measures to be taken.  Careful thought then needs to be given to how repairs should be effected in the short, medium and long-term, and whether substitute materials might be used as an interim measure until the present phenomenon of theft has resolved itself.

See Guidance from English Heritage

John Rees
Diocesan Registrar