Sir Simon, markets work better than nationalisation

Simon Jenkins has the solution for all those churches rotting away across our green and pleasant land. We should nationalise them.

This is the wrong solution:

Nothing will change unless everything changes, and it is clear that everything should. Otherwise most churches will eventually become like England’s castles: ruined echoes of a distant past. Church buildings should be “renationalised”, taken into state ownership, and then transferred to local parish or town councils. They might in turn set up local trusts. These secular bodies would be responsible for subletting churches for community use, which would of course include for Christian worship in whole or part. All denominations would be encouraged to cohabit.

We agree that there are churches rotting away in every corner of our isles. But nationalisation isn't the correct solution for it will rule out entirely what might come to be part of that correct solution - not having the buildings which were formerly churches. Or, to be perhaps less extreme, not having them with those community uses but becoming private.

Nationalisation would petrify the buildings into uses which might no longer be appropriate. At the extreme end it could be, it is possible at least, that here is no community use which anyone has for some of these buildings. Certainly, a goodly part of the complaint is that no one has a use which covers the costs of maintaining those buildings. At which point we'd probably prefer not to have the buildings.

To be less extreme though there is a thriving business in transforming redundant churches into housing. Nationalisation isn't going to allow that non-community use which is why we should rule it out. A market based system will allow it though which is why we should indeed be using markets to deal with this problem.

Not that we expect Sir Simon to grasp this given his own running of the National Trust, something akin to what he's proposing for churches.