Outrage over church graves building plan

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All Saints Church, Childwall © Jonathon Wild

Bereaved families are waiting to find out whether the graves of their loved ones will be built over for a church extension despite a furious protest campaign.

All Saints Church in Childwall proposes to build an £800,000 rotunda extension into the churchyard, meaning that as many as 87 graves, some only a few years old, will make the foundations of the new building.

It is believed that it is only when construction work begins that it will be known whether bodies need to be exhumed and moved, along with the headstones.

Objectors cite that the proposed extension is unsuitable for the Grade I listed church, which is in a Conservation Area and is also the only medieval church in the Liverpool region, having been founded in the 14th Century.

Although the plans were initially rejected by Liverpool City Council in 2011, the church successfully appealed the decision to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol in May. The outcome now lies in the hands of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Liverpool, who may or may not grant a faculty [consent] to the church in Childwall Abbey Road to allow construction.

Protests about the plans were featured in Private Eye magazine, while dozens of letters of objection have been sent to local newspapers. A ‘Save Childwall Church’ campaign website and Facebook group have been set up to garner support to block the rotunda from being built.

Christine Walpole’s mother-in-law was buried in All Saints Church grounds as recently as four years ago and hers is one of the graves affected by the plans.

Mrs Walpole told JMU Journalism: “When my husband arranged his mother’s funeral in 2008 and the plans were in place, the church withheld the information that the headstone would be removed and the grave built over – to house toilets amongst other things.”

She added: “They maintain that they tried to contact affected families, but could hardly have had a better opportunity than when they were approached about a forthcoming funeral. We found out about the proposals when a cousin sent us an article from a local newspaper.”

Mrs Walpole claims that when they approached Reverend Gary Renison of All Saints Church about the matter he told them: “This is my land.”

Mrs Walpole, now of Llandudno, North Wales, also described how church officials have said to her family that to be buried under a church building “has always been an honour”.

She said: “They are actually equating a grave inside the church with graves outside having their headstones removed and toilets built on top of it. They’re telling us that we should regard that as an honour.”

The site where the extension could be built © Jonathon Wild

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings also opposes the plans and released a file against the church’s appeal of the council’s planning refusal.

SPAB Churches Officer, Catherine Cullis, concludes in the document: “The Society supports the decision by Council members not to grant planning permission for the proposed extension on the grounds that its scale and massing would impact detrimentally on the character of the historic church and its churchyard setting.”

Both the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the ‘Save Childwall Church’ website believe there may be other ways for the church to achieve their aims.

The SPAB said: “The Society would willingly contribute to further discussions in the belief that a solution which would not damage the character and quality of the church and its setting can be achieved and which would meet the needs of the church.”

All Saints’ Reverend Gary Renison is currently on sabbatical. In his absence, church administrator Ruth Scott told JMU Journalism: “We are well aware of the objectors and their points of view but as we have now made our faculty request/petition the entire business of approval or otherwise is now the subject of due process.

“As this process must now run its course, any formal comments need to be addressed to the Diocesan Registrar.”

The date of the decisive Consistory Court of the Diocese of Liverpool is yet to be confirmed.