A group of regular pilgrims to Walsingham have lodged an appeal fighting the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia Historic Churches Committee’s determination against the Shrine’s plans to update its facilities.
The appellants argue the diocesan committee’s procedural irregularities, including failing to ensure public notice and consultation, render the decision invalid.
“By failing to ensure public notice so that a public consultation could take place, the East Anglia HCC has breached its own statutes as well as the Government’s Code of Practice,” lead appellant Andrew Cusack said. “These are not optional extras but fundamental to the planning process in law.”
Under English planning law and its Ecclesiastical Exemption, the diocesan Historic Churches Committee acts as the authority to grant Listed Building Consent for Catholic churches with listed protection. The Shrine at Walsingham includes the Grade I listed Slipper Chapel and the Grade II listed 1890s presbytery next door, but the only buildings to be replaced in the proposal are from the 1980s.
Pilgrims and visitors to Walsingham have complained about the inadequacy of the existing amenities as well as the unsightly temporary buildings at the Catholic Shrine. Shrine authorities commissioned a proposal that highlights the setting of the medieval Slipper Chapel and expands the separate Chapel of Reconciliation to better accommodate pilgrims, many of whom are currently forced to hear Mass open to the elements. The new buildings are designed to integrate into the architectural heritage of Norfolk and the surrounding area.
“The HCC’s determination ignores the National Planning Policy Framework by failing to make a determination of harm,” Mr Cusack said. “They merely mentioned the possibility of harm without citing a single example of what harm the proposal would cause.
“The Code of Practice also requires them to consider submissions made by the public during the consultation period, which they cannot have done since the consultation never took place.”
The Historic Churches Committee’s statutes also require them to allow the applicant and representatives to attend the meeting where the application is discussed and determined, which has not happened in this case.
“While the lack of merit in the HCC’s determination provides sufficient grounds for appeal,” Mr Cusack continued, “their failure to follow their own statutes, their disregard for the Code of Practice, and their undermining the public’s ability to contribute to its decision-making all mean this Determination should be declared invalid.”
The list of appellants includes architectural historian Michael Hodges, London soup kitchen organiser Kate MacKenzie, and general practitioner Dr Stuart Reiss, Andrew Cusack, who co-ordinated the appeal, is the chairman of Catholics in the Conservative Party.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of East Anglia Historic Churches Committee said: “Should this appeal go ahead it is hard to see what benefit for pilgrims will be achieved. The Walsingham Trust have already withdrawn the original proposal and stated that they wish to develop a new one which will meet their future needs and those of the local community and satisfy the requirements of statutory bodies. The HCC is ready to assist in this process.”
Picture: The Slipper Chapel. (Alex Ramsey).