Church signboards and planning permission

Give us a sign!

At the end of winter the grey skies and cold wet weather means a lot of things do not look their best. We notice the muddy path around the church and peeling paintwork. Our noticeboards outside the church can also look in need of attention with left over notices from Christmas, and pieces of paper that were clearly put up in the rain. Maybe you are thinking about replacing the noticeboard altogether.

Signs, noticeboards and banners are an important part of getting our activities seen by others but before you go erecting new noticeboards and attaching banners to your railings it is important to understand the law on this issue. It is very tempting go for a large noticeboard that will be prominent and very visible but the chances are this will require planning permission.

Thankfully the rules on this issue are reasonably consistent across the UK with only slight variations.

The relevant guidance and/or legislation is as follows:

Certain classes of permanent signs or notice boards outside churches and ‘religious institutions’ do not need permission as they have ‘deemed consent’ so long as they meet certain restrictions. These classes are 2(c) in England & Wales and 2(3) in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The main restriction is that the sign is not more than 1.2 square metres (1.5sq. m. in Northern Ireland). To prevent organisations simply putting up a large number of smaller signs there is a limit of one per building unless there are entrances on different road frontages in which case you are allowed two signs – one on each road frontage.

There are also restrictions on the maximum height of the sign above ground level, for example 4.6m in Scotland, so most pole mounted signs or signs at ground floor level would comply. Similarly there are limits on the size of lettering and symbols which varies between 0.3m and 0.75m depending on where you are in the UK and whether you are in a conservation area or similar. Lighting is not allowed on these classes of signs unless required to highlight that medical services or supplies are available.

If the proposed sign does not meet these limitations then planning permission is still possible but you will need to apply. A discussion with the planning department will generally reveal what is likely to be acceptable.

Many Rural Ministries partners regularly put on summer clubs, Alpha course or similar activities and want to put up temporary signs often in the form of banners tied to railings. Schools, charities and clubs do the same to promote their events. Technically these too require planning permission but most planning departments apply a test of reasonableness. Feedback from planners we have spoken to indicates that they are unlikely to be concerned or take action so long as the banner is not promoting a commercial event and is only up for a short period. The length of time is not defined but in one situation Rural Ministries has experience of the planners felt two weeks was reasonable.

It should of course be remembered that if the building is listed or in a conservation area or similar then additional restrictions may apply.

Nick Jones