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parish council funding of grass cutting in church graveyard

0 votes
I understand from several PCC's around my own that the PC contributes to the grass cutting costs in their church yards.  We are a rural community and at least 15 miles from any public cemeteries.  My questions are

Is the church graveyard classed as a cemetery?

Has the PC an obligation to help with costs of grass cutting and maintenance?

In other words would i be able to request help with this or is it simply discretionary

many thanks
asked by (120 points)

3 Answers

0 votes

Whether a church graveyard is classed as a cemetery is an open question. Something similar was discussed here earlier (you can find the full discussion here), and my best offer at an answer was along the lines of the following. Here's something that outlines the confusion, posted by solicitors Nicholas Hancox: "The Local Government Act 1972 says very clearly in section 214(6) that a parish council may lawfully contribute to the upkeep of a burial ground maintained by another person. Some people argue that this applies to the upkeep of an open Church of England churchyard. But there is an unresolved legal argument to the contrary, which is that spending money on the maintenance of a burial ground which the ecclesiastical authority, the parochial church council, itself has a legal obligation to maintain, might be unlawfully irrational. Why would it be reasonable for the civil parish council to spend its taxpayers' money on a subsidy to a religious organsisation (the parochial church council) which already has a binding legal obligation to fund the work itself? It would be a waste of taxpayers' money. One counter-argument is that keeping a burial ground open by contributing to its expansion and maintenance might in a particular case be cheaper than allowing that burial ground to close and then having to take on the entire maintenance liability under section 215...". The author doesn't seem to subscribe to there being an important distinction between churchyard and cemetery, although others might. The council of which I'm a member routinely makes a grant to the PCC (never queried by the auditor) on the basis that the churchyard is a valuable public space, close to the centre of the town, and that if it were closed (it's pretty full) we'd have to take total responsibility. (It could be passed to the district council, but that has ramifications that might well be undesirable).

On the question of whether the council has an obligation to provide support, the answer is a clear "no".

answered by (28.9k points)
0 votes
NALC guidance note L01-18 Financial Assistance to the Church, suggests that the prohibition on expenditure on property relating to affairs of the church contained in S8 of the 1894 Local Government Act still applies and as a specific restriction, it can be assumed to override all subsequent legislation, including the General Power of Competence.  This has not been tested in the courts.

If this is the case, far from being an obligation to help, it could be considered an illegal payment.

Many rural parishes, including two of my own, contribute to the maintenance of their churchyards, whether open or closed, as highlighted by Counterpoint, reflecting their value as a public space and this has never been queried by the auditor, perhaps due to the obscurity of the original restriction in 124 year-old legislation.
answered by (24k points)
0 votes

The advice NALC gave is this:

The Local Gov Act of 1894 Sec6(1) & Sec 8,  transferred powers from the Church to the newly formed Parish Councils.  Those powers are to:

  • Hold & manage parish property, and do any works including to maintain and improve it, and contribute to expenses (but NOT property relating to affairs of the church or held for an ecclesiastical charity).

  • Exceptions

As is often the case, there are specific exceptions which came about as a result of the Local Gov Act 1972.  These are:

  • Sec 215 LGA 1972 - allows a council to maintain a closed churchyard.

  • Sec 214 (6) LGA 1972 - allows a burial authority to contribute to anyone else providing a cemetery (eg church, temple, synagog.)

NALC are saying that they think the general prohibitions of the 1894 Act about not providing financial help for church property, are over-ridden by the specific powers relating churchyards / cemeteries in the later laws made under LGA 1972.

So, examples of what this means are that the Parish Council can NOT provide funds to a Church Hall to make it suitable for Scout meetings (because it is church property).  Also, the District Council (as burial authority) CAN help the local church or other religious group provide a cemetery for people in it’s area.

answered by (300 points)

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