Lords debates the future of English cathedrals

29 June 2012

Lords debated the future of English cathedrals yesterday (Thursday 28 June)

Lord Cormack (Conservative), who tabled and opened the debate, is vice-president of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust/National Churches Trust and a former member of the Ecclesiastical Committee. He celebrated the importance of English cathedrals: 'We could all agree that one comes closest to the soul and story of a nation in its great buildings'.

He explained that although they are primarily centres of worship for Christians they are also centres for music, craftsmanship and individual communities.

He spoke of the tax exemptions that are in place until 2015 and said: 'I would like £50 million provided as an endowment for the cathedrals of England over the next five years, with the money given to and channelled through the English Heritage, which has the expertise to liaise and to distribute it.'

Baroness Andrews (Labour), chair of English Heritage followed to explain the significance and wonder of cathedrals. She said: 'When we see traces of those early and brilliant builders, designers and engineers, we understand that both faith and genius transcend time.'

She explained that nearly £50million was distributed by the English Heritage to over 500 cathedrals including Salisbury, Lincoln, Ely, Worcester and Liverpool. Partners including the Wolfson Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund gave £45 million to over 100 cathedrals. Work continues with limited funding.

Baroness Andrews said: 'I am pleased to say that Lincoln is now the only cathedral on the risk register.' She argued her view that more funding is needed and expressed concern about metal theft and the impact of VAT.

She concluded: 'The challenge to every cathedral today is to remake itself as the heart and spirit of the community and to provide the cafes, lavatories, bookshops and educational spaces that enable people to feel that they belong there and understand the place and to become what Frank Field called, “wise and willing midwives to future glories”.'

New member, Lord Bishop of Worcester contributed to the debate in his maiden speech. He said: 'Cathedrals are not just architectural gems but hugely significant active symbols of our common religious and spiritual heritage. They are visited each year by increasing numbers of people with varying religious affiliations.' 

He also argued his opinion that cathedrals 'should be valued, cherished and supported'. 

Baroness Northover (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the government and said: 'Preserving and maintaining such massive and outstanding buildings, most of which date back hundreds of years, is clearly a significant challenge.' 

She concluded that the government were 'committed to supporting the preservation of cathedrals' and said: 'The government agree that it is important that cathedrals are looked after properly and provide a great deal of support for this.'  

Further information

Image: Lincoln Cathedral, iStockphoto

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