A CONSERVATION society has won a landmark case stopping a “harmful” proposal to cover up the burial stones of a village’s founders in an ancient church.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) won an ecclesiastical court case earlier this month to stop works, including installing under floor heating, being carried out at the Grade I listed Holy Trinity church in Poynings.

Challenging the plans for the church and winning a case at this level means the SPAB’s approach to conserving old buildings has been added to church case law.

Emma Lawrence, head of casework at the SPAB, said: “This was an important case for the SPAB and for the wider sector as it knocks on the head the notion that all schemes to make churches more comfortable for the congregation should be allowed on the grounds of public benefit and mission, outweighing heritage considerations.

“It shows that alternative, non-invasive proposals need to be given due consideration and that proper expert assessment is required.

“It is important for us because it gets added to case law and because the proposals would have harmed the special interest of this really atmospheric church.”

In 2015, the society was invited to consult on proposals to install under floor heating in the south transept of the church.

This part of the church contains a number of medieval burial monuments marking the final resting place of generations of the De Poynings family – the ancient benefactors of the current church and founders of the village.

The proposals included the introduction of underfloor heating in this space covered by a new floor on top of the existing burial stones.

The south transept cannot be enclosed due to a medieval screen being in the way and the society says underfloor heating is only effective in a building in regular use.

The society, along with the Church Buildings Council and Historic England, suggested different approaches, such as using the less significant north transept for proposed activities, adding a small extension to the church or removing some pews at the west end of the church to create a community space.

A spokeswoman for the Downland Benefice, which runs the church, said: “The parish wanted to make changes to make the church a lot more modern but still in keeping with its history.

“All three of the other churches operated by the benefice have had their facilities updated, apart from at Poynings.”

The court chancellor’s judgment took into account the technical issues that would arise from the heating plans as well as the harm to the building’s significance.