A bureaucratic blunder dating back to the 1970s is costing Kirkburton bill-payers thousands of pounds every year for the upkeep of a church many do not use.
Kirkburton Parish Council allocates part of its annual budget towards the maintenance of St John’s Church in Kirkheaton and its closed burial ground.
The cash is raised via a precept added to the council tax bill received by households in the parish, which takes in Flockton, Grange Moor, Kirkburton, Kirkheaton, Lepton, Shelley, Shepley, Thurstonland and Farnley Tyas.
The arrangement has lasted for more than 50 years. In 1965 the church was given £105 1s 4d. In 2011/12 the figure was a whopping £20,995. That year the precept amounted to £122,000.
Now some residents are asking whether the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Upkeep of the church is the parish council’s statutory duty under the Burial Act, which dates back to the 1850s. An attempt to transfer responsibility after local government reorganisation in 1974 failed when paperwork was not filed in time, leaving the parish council to maintain the churchyard at its own cost.
“It was a total cock-up,” said Bill Armer, a parish councillor and, since 2014, a Kirklees councillor for Kirkburton.
“Ever since Kirklees has refused point-blank to take responsibility. Therefore it becomes a charge on the Kirkburton civil parishioners. The parish council are stuck with it.
“There are mixed views on it. Most folk think it’s not really fair. I have tried but there’s not a legal way out of it.”
A spokesman for Kirkburton Parish Council said it was not correct to say that community groups were missing out on grants because of the cost of the annual maintenance.
“Every year the council sets a budget to cover Kirkheaton and all the various grant schemes in operation. One year there was an unforeseen high demand for grants and in order to meet it as far as possible, the council made several considerable adjustments to its budget.
“The result was that almost every eligible application was supported, at least in part.”
Grants totalling £13,900 were distributed to community groups last year. Recipients included Grange Moor Bowling Club, Shelley Over 60s, Stocksmoor Toddler Group and Lepton Townswomen’s Guild.
Churchwarden Rob Eabry said: “Kirkheaton Church is grateful for the support received over several decades towards the upkeep of the church grounds. They are a well-used public space. Any decisions regarding costs and maintenance are made by Kirkburton Parish Council.”
Forty years of wrangling over who pays for church
Sometime in the mid 1970s, somewhere along the line, something went wrong.
And even though there have been attempts to put it right, the saga of Kirkheaton Church and who pays for its upkeep drags on.
As long ago as 1965 responsibility for maintenance of the churchyard at St John’s passed to the then Kirkburton Urban District Council.
In 1972 new legislation advised that, where a churchyard had been closed, a parochial church council could serve a written request for the local authority to take over maintenance. This should happen within three months of the request.
Kirkburton Parish Council, which succeeded Kirkburton UDC, “inherited” the church. It requested a transfer of responsibility but, according to documents seen by the Examiner, the old Kirklees Metropolitan District Council (formed after local government reorganisation in 1974) avoided acceptance due to an administrative error: the three-month deadline was not met.
Correspondence throughout 1975 between the rector of St John’s and Kirklees MDC was dismissed by Yorkshire Local Councils Associations in 1989 as having “no legal effect”, and that “the acceptance of responsibility by Kirklees ... was not qualified in any way. There is no way in which [Kirkburton Parish Council] can transfer the responsibility to anyone else”.