Plans to expand graveyard at medieval St Mary’s Church in Erpingham hit snag as council insists on archeological survey

Rev Canon Paul Thomas, of St Marys Church, Erpingham, is disappointed with the council's stance. Pic

Rev Canon Paul Thomas, of St Marys Church, Erpingham, is disappointed with the council's stance. Picture: Stuart Anderson - Credit: Archant

Plans to expand a medieval village church's graveyard have floundered because it will not be able to afford an archeological survey, which is required before works take place.

The parochial church council at St Mary's Church, Erpingham, hoped to extend its graveyard over half an acre of adjoining land to cater for community need for the next 100 years.

But the church has been told by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) it would first need to have a survey of the area done, which the church's Rev Canon Paul Thomas said could cost between £12,000 and £20,000.

The Rev Thomas said he was disappointed with the council's stance. He said: 'We have been told that before our planning application will be heard we have to authorise an archeological dig of two 30-metre trenches 1.8 metres deep as they believe it is the site of a medieval village.

'This is poor speculation as all the evidence points to the village being much further away. To authorise a dig would effectively mean signing a blank cheque.'

The Rev Thomas said the church would not benefit from extending the churchyard, but saw it as a community service. He called on the council to fund the survey, as it could face a burial space shortage if the extension did not go ahead.

The Rev Thomas said: 'When burial space runs out the local authority will have to provide cemetery space elsewhere, possibly at Aylsham or Cromer.'

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St Mary's was built around 1400. The Rev Thomas said the current churchyard had capacity for 'three to eight' more years.

An NNDC spokesman said it was common practice for Norfolk County Council's Historic Environment Service to comment on applications where there was a strong possibility items of archeological interest could be uncovered.

The spokesman said: 'In order for the heritage assets to be appropriately assessed and to comply with the requirements of the national planning policy guidance further work is required on site to determine the impacts.

'This is not an unusual requirement on planning applications which seek permission to extend the burial grounds of churchyards.

'This is a matter for the landowner and applicant to resolve.'