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The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation into the maintenance and protection of church buildings

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Summary

Background and goal of the investigation

It is both a national and a local responsibility to preserve church buildings and the values that they represent. The Storting has stated that measures are needed to improve the repair and protection of church buildings, and that the substantial maintenance backlog is a challenge to which a solution must be found soon. The goal of the investigation was to assess the authorities' work to protect and maintain church buildings.

Method

The investigation was carried out using document analysis and interviews, and available statistics were collated and analysed. Investigations were also carried out in four selected municipalities to illustrate the challenges relating to the maintenance and protection of church buildings.

The audit was limited to the period 2005 to 2010.

Results

The investigation shows that, in terms of maintenance, the condition of church buildings in Norway has improved during the period 2005 to 2010. The proportion of churches in a satisfactory condition has increased from 52 per cent to 63 per cent. Church buildings in Norway are also better protected against fire and theft in 2010 than they were in 2005. In all, the proportion of churches with satisfactory theft and fire protection has increased from 79 per cent in 2005/2006 to 83 per cent in 2009/2010. The central government authorities have followed up the Storting's central concern, namely that work on maintaining and protecting churches be stepped up.

Although many churches are well maintained and function as parish churches, the situation for many churches is still characterised by inadequate maintenance, and extensive repairs are needed. The maintenance backlog for Norwegian church buildings is calculated to be in the order of several billion kroner. Thirty-seven per cent of all Norwegian church buildings (586 churches) still suffer from extensive maintenance shortcomings. Sixty per cent of these churches (354 buildings) are listed or deemed to be of special historic value. There is a great risk that the listed churches will not have reached a normal level of maintenance by 2020 as the Storting intended.

As of 2010, theft and fire protection remains inadequate for 17 per cent (266 churches). These shortcomings relate to escape routes, fire protection equipment and fire and burglary alarms. Half of these churches are listed or deemed to be of special historic value.

The investigation shows that the condition of a large proportion of the church buildings has not been maintained at the same level in the years from 2005/2006 to 2009/2010. This deterioration shows that the municipalities vary in terms of their ability and will to carry out regular maintenance. When planned maintenance is neglected, the extent of the damage tends to increase. The investigation indicates that a lack of plans, varying competence and capacity and a failure to prioritise are factors that can help to explain the shortcomings in the maintenance and protection of church buildings at the local level.

The interest compensation scheme for church buildings has stimulated the municipalities to increase their maintenance efforts in relation to church buildings. During the period from 2005 to April 2011, interest compensation has been approved for 601 churches in 255 different municipalities. The condition of the church buildings in 2010 nonetheless shows that the interest compensation scheme, in combination with the other government measures, does not ensure an adequate level of maintenance.

Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843