The Appointment of Professionals for Quinquennial Inspections

An Introduction to Accreditation and Approval Systems

Jonathan Taylor


It is widely recognised that the inspection of historic churches requires specialist skills, but it is not always easy for non-specialists to determine which professionals have the skills required. Some professionals seem to qualify solely because they have always qualified, and it is likely that many continue to practice methods which are now known to damage historic buildings, simply because they have not been required to keep abreast of current developments.


Most churches and chapels in Britain are inspected 'quinquennially', that is to say every five years. The Church of England introduced quinquennial inspections as a statutory requirement in 1955 through The Inspection of Churches Measure, and dioceses are required to maintain a fund to pay for them. Most other denominations and many secular organisations which are responsible for historic buildings now adopt a similar approach to inspections.

Quinquennial inspections involve a thorough survey of all aspects of a building's fabric and are intended to identify problems which have developed since the last time it was inspected and to establish priorities for repair to ensure the preservation of the fabric. Quinquennial inspections are generally frequent enough to catch problems before significant damage occurs.

In addition to the structure of the church building, chapel or other place of worship, Church of England quinquennial inspections may be required by the archdeacon to include works of art, artefacts and other articles of particular importance or value. Ruined churches and other churchyard ruins may also have to be included where designated jointly by the Council for British Archaeology and the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England (now part of English Heritage), but as yet no proper survey has been carried out. Any trees in the churchyard covered by a tree preservation order must also be included.

The importance of regular inspections by architects and surveyors who specialise in the conservation and repair of historic buildings cannot be over-emphasised. Historic and 'traditional' structures deteriorate in a manner that is very different from modern buildings and it takes a specialist to correctly distinguish defects that require attention from the superficial results of the ageing process.

Guidance Notes for Applicants for the Joint Grant Scheme for Churches and other Places of Worship highlight the issue. Here, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund state that "not all architects or chartered building surveyors have the appropriate experience in historic buildings", and the employment of an 'appropriate' professional is stipulated as one of the standard conditions of grant aid.

Where historic buildings are concerned, successful identification of the cause of a problem depends on a thorough understanding of the way traditional materials and structures work, and on identifying the weak points of the building in question in particular. It is vital that specialists remain up to date. Scientific approaches are continually breaking new ground, and some assumptions made in the recent past are now being shown to have been false, such as the use of hybrid mortar mixes (lime mortars gauged with hydraulic lime).


Since the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955 was amended by the Care of Churches Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991, chartered surveyors as well as architects have been eligible to qualify for appointment by the Church of England to carry out quinquennial inspections. Inspectors are approved and appointed as individuals rather than as firms.

Although appointments are made by the local parochial church councils (PCCs), the approval of the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches (or DAC) is required. According to the Council for the Care of Churches' Guide to Church Inspection and Recording, this is to ensure 'that a person has the appropriate knowledge and experience relative to the type, size and age of the building'. Most DACs provide an 'approved list' of inspectors, while others consider each appointment individually. In either case the architect or surveyor wishing to take on quinquennial inspections can apply to the PCC with details of his or her work and experience. Where the PCC wishes to appoint somebody who is not already on the DAC-approved list, the person must then apply to the DAC to be included. PCCs are discouraged from appointing members of the congregation or local community.

In some other denominations the diocesan authority appoints an individual or firm to carry out quinquennial inspections for all churches or places of worship within its diocese. However, in dioceses which are large and spread out, this can be impractical. The Episcopal Church in Scotland has recently abandoned this requirement.

Variations in approach can also occur between dioceses within a denomination. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church for example, each diocese is autonomous under the authority of the bishop, and their national Church Arts, Architecture and Heritage Committee operates in an advisory capacity only.


Where historic buildings are concerned, it can be difficult to determine whether the prospective inspector is really qualified to carry out the work. Arguably the most reliable indicator of an architect's or surveyor's suitability is accreditation. Other relevant considerations include training, experience and membership of professional bodies.

Accreditation: The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has an established accreditation system for conservation specialists, ensuring that anyone on its list of surveyors accredited in conservation has appropriate training, is experienced in the field and stays up to date. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) established a similar accreditation system in 1994, but in England and Wales the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have now decided against accreditation in any specialist field. Their view is that their members should be entrusted not to take on work for which they are unsuited. In theory this is fine, but in practice those who are most likely to feel qualified to carry out conservation include some non-specialists who are not fully aware of the risks involved.

The paradox is that the more one learns about conservation, the more one appreciates the risks involved. The difficulty of distinguishing those who are genuinely qualified to advise from those who are simply ignorant of the risks is compounded by the fact that many practising 'specialists' have not kept abreast of developments in the field and some are hopelessly out of date.

Some architects in England and Wales recognised the problem and formed their own special interest group, The RIBA Conservation Group. However, all special interest groups were disbanded by the RIBA in January 1999 leaving a vacuum. Some other special interest groups have reformed as separate societies 'linked' to the RIBA, and it is to be hoped that conservation architects will follow suit.

As a result of the RIBA's decision, a new and entirely independent body has emerged, the Architects Accredited in Building Conservation Register. The AABC Register is run as a private limited company with applications for accreditation assessed by independent specialists, overseen by a board representing key conservation organisations. The first edition of the Register will be launched following the first wave of assessments which will take place in August 1999.

Accreditation by the AABC Register, the RIAS or the RICS is clearly an excellent indication of an architect's suitability to carry out conservation work in general. However, it may be some while before the majority of conservation architects have registered with the AABC Register in particular.

Membership: In addition to the RIBA, RIAS and RICS, there are a variety of other professional bodies which include professionals with related interests. Of particular relevance here are the Cathedral Architects Association, the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association, and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, all of which have strict entry requirements. Membership of certain other associations and interest groups may also indicate active involvement in conservation, such as the Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings, the Building Limes Forum and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings amongst others.

Training: The number of professionals who have trained in conservation is increasing rapidly, and most younger applicants may be expected to have attended one of the growing number of postgraduate courses such as the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and RICS course in Building Conservation at the College of Estate Management in Reading (a full list of short, graduate and postgraduate courses can be found in The Building Conservation Directory). Older applicants are less likely to have postgraduate qualifications, but may have attended relevant lectures and seminars (or given them themselves) organised by professional bodies, conservation associations and organisations, or training centres such as the University of York.

Experience: Unless recognised and accredited conservation specialists are involved in the selection process, a proper assessment of the quality of an applicant's work may be almost impossible. However, the type of projects that a person has worked on will usually be relevant, particularly if backed up by evidence that he or she has kept abreast of recent developments in conservation technology. Experience gained carrying out quinquennial inspections for other churches of a similar period, size and complexity will be most relevant, closely followed by experience in the broader field of building conservation, whether secular or ecclesiastical.

It is widely recognised that there is a need to bring on and give experience to new, less experienced people to carry out inspections so that they can gain experience. One solution is to approve inspectors to inspect different types of church buildings according to their level of expertise. According to The Council for the Care of Churches, several dioceses operate this system. The Diocese of Southwell, for example, operates two lists, one of which lists inspectors approved to inspect all churches, while the other lists those who are approved to inspect specific churches only, or types of buildings in which they specialise, such as Victorian churches.


In 1999 the Council for the Care of Churches completed a survey of Church of England dioceses which revealed significant faults in the implementation of procedures required under the Inspection of Churches Measure 1955 (as amended). In particular, one in three dioceses did not have a written 'scheme' setting out the requirements for inspections, and almost one in three dioceses did not have a fund to pay for quinquennials. Although it was clear that the statutory procedures were not being followed properly, the Council for the Care of Churches believes that 'the vast majority of churches are being inspected every five years in an organised and efficient manner'.

One of the most significant issues raised by the survey concerned the quality of inspectors approved to carry out quinquennial inspections. It was revealed that many DACs were concerned that where an inspector was no longer considered fit to carry out inspections, for reasons such as age or incompetence, removing the inspector could result in legal action against them.

In response to this concern, The Council for the Care of Churches sought the advice of the Legal Advisory Commission of the Church of England. In brief, the opinion given was that, if DAC approval of an inspector was withdrawn for good reason and the DAC acted 'fairly and in accordance with natural justice', the Commission could see no grounds for a legal challenge. Indeed, the Commission felt that the DACs have a right, or even a duty, to review from time to time the list of approved inspectors.

An alternative to this approach, which was also mentioned in the report, is for DACs to revise their lists entirely from time to time and to make all inspectors reapply. Several Church of England DACs have adopted this less confrontational approach.

Another area of concern raised by the Council's report is that the selection procedure adopted by the Church of England is limited to the appointment of inspectors only. The inspector may well be the best person to prepare specifications and oversee repair work described in the quinquennial inspection report, particularly if the inspector specialises in that particular type or period of architecture. However, this is not always the case. Inspections, specifications and the overseeing of repair works all require different skills, and care should be taken to identify the right person for each aspect of the work.

Churches are perhaps at their most vulnerable where building works are carried out without any professional involvement. Often building contractors are appointed to carry out minor repairs and maintenance work to historic buildings without having a specialist conservation architect or surveyor to advise on the appointment and to oversee the work. The training, accreditation and experience of everyone involved, from scaffolders to stonemasons, is equally important, and a professional should always be employed to ensure that the work is carried out to the appropriate standard, particularly where the building is old and of historical importance.

Finally, where churches retain ecclesiastical exemption, there needs to be some system to ensure that essential work identified by an inspection is carried out.

The success of conservation legislation in preventing neglect and poor repair depends on how widely it is known and understood, the funding available and the effectiveness of enforcement. As in the conservation of secular buildings, legislation on its own is insufficient.

Those responsible for appointments need to be aware of the importance of obtaining the very best advice where the inspection and the repair of historic buildings are concerned, as mistakes may not be immediately apparent but may leave an expensive legacy for the future.

This article is reproduced from The Conservation and Repair of Ecclesiastical Buildings, 1999


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.

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