University research into faith relations commended by Archbishop of Canterbury

Recommendations to improve relations between faith groups and local government planning systems supported

An academic from the University’s School of Planning and Geography has co-authored a policy briefing that has been commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Richard Gale, Lecturer in Human Geography, co-authored the policy briefing which identifies key challenges for both faith groups and the planning sector.

Working alongside Dr Andrew Rogers at Roehampton University, he led an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded network on Faith and Place. This network set out to explore the effects of planning laws and regulations on faith groups.

Dr Gale said: “We focused on bringing together pools of expertise around the topic in a unique ’task’ group, which included planners, policy-makers, faith group representatives, and academics. Our discussions built on longstanding research that I have done on the effects of planning controls on Muslim communities trying to establish mosques and education facilities, and similar research Andrew Rogers has done on Black Majority Churches.”

Previous research has shown that many faith groups - and minority groups especially - face difficulties, including extensive local opposition, to the development of religious facilities

Following 14 months of meetings and deliberations, the outcome of the Faith and Place Network is a policy briefing on how local planning authorities across the UK should respond to the growing spatial needs of religious minority groups.

The briefing makes 15 recommendations as to how relations between growing faith groups in need of places to worship and the local government planning system can be improved. These include:

  • Faith groups taking a more active involvement in the development of council Local Plans to ensure their views are included in the consultation process.
  • Councils reviewing data on planning applications to ascertain whether refusals are above average from faith groups and take appropriate action if required.
  • Protecting space for social infrastructure, including places of worship

Dr Gale added: “Our briefing identifies key challenges for both faith groups and the planning sector. Ultimately both sides need a greater understanding of each other if growing religious communities in our cities are to thrive and be able to worship with dignity.

“We have evidence of Christian and other faith groups resorting to industrial estates and retail parks to establish sites of worship. Clearly this isn’t ideal for them, and it rarely accords with the wishes of councillors who want to encourage business growth.”

Justin Wellby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has spoken out in favour of the briefing , encouraging planners and faith groups to ‘engage seriously with the Faith and Place Network’s recommendations.’ The briefing has also been favourably received by The Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis MP, Department for Communities and Local Government. Following a launch event at the House of Commons last week, the policy briefing will be circulated to all local planning authorities in England and Wales.