Running out of space for burial
50. In previous centuries, burial grounds were
continuously reused, and churchyards were able to accommodate
the dead of the parish indefinitely. From the 1820s, massive population
expansion in many urban centres placed existing burial sites under
tremendous pressure. In some instances, disturbance of remains
took place only weeks following an interment. New cemeteries located
on the outskirts of the town had the space to offer undisturbed
perpetual burial, which was attractive to a society that was placing
an increasing importance in the ability to grieve by the grave
side. The consequences of this concept of 'perpetuity burial'
- burial undisturbed for all time - are only now beginning to
51. The Government told us that the provision of
land for burial was "a matter for local and commercial decisions
in the light of demand."
There is no statutory duty on local authorities to ensure the
provision of adequate space for burial, and therefore development
plans do not have to include any reference to the issue. Nor is
there any overarching planning authority with responsibility for
monitoring the situation across a region, or across the country.
52. Detailed research by the London Planning Advisory
Committee (LPAC), carried out in 1997, demonstrated the serious
lack of burial space in London. A number of London boroughs have
only a few years' burial space remaining, and two - Hackney and
Tower Hamlets - currently have no facilities for the burial of
Giles Dolphin, who, whilst at LPAC, instigated this research,
told us that it amounted to a "crisis" in burial space
provision in London.
53. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that
the problem is not confined to London - nor even to the South-east
of England, where pressure on land is perhaps most acute. Whilst
many burial authorities told us that they had upwards of 100 years'
space left for burial,
we also received a significant number of submissions from around
the country telling us of the impending exhaustion of their existing
burial space and of difficulties in acquiring suitable new land
for burial. The
Confederation of Burial Authorities told us that town and parish
councils regularly seek advice from the Confederation on extending
existing or establishing new burial grounds.
The problem, already acute in some places, seems set to get worse.
It was clear from evidence that the cremation rate has settled
to 72 per cent,
implying an increase in the numbers of people wishing to be buried.
The apparent trend towards the interment of ashes following cremation
is putting yet more pressure on burial space.
54. There are three main reasons why this lack of
burial space gives cause for concern. Perhaps most importantly,
as space in cemeteries runs out, it becomes more and more difficult
to ensure that the bereaved have the widest possible choice of
decent, affordable options for disposal of the dead. A number
of witnesses impressed upon us the importance of burial space
being available locally: it is not good enough to have
to say to the bereaved, sorry, you are going to have to bury your
loved one twenty or more miles away, because there is no space
left in your local cemetery or churchyard.
Secondly, pressure on space is leading many cemetery managers
to eke out provision by 'cramming', evident in a great many cemeteries.
At present, this is the only alternative available in many places,
but it is highly undesirable. It fundamentally alters the character
and design of a cemetery, potentially affecting not only its heritage
value, but also its appropriateness as a place for the bereaved.
Thirdly, cemeteries and 'closed' churchyards with little or no
space left for burial can become a substantial burden on local
communities. It is these cemeteries which are often the most neglected
and run down, left to decay because they have no further use.
55. Research on the provision of burial space
nationwide is urgently required. The research on cemeteries which
we have above recommended take place should address this requirement.
Assuming that there is a serious problem - and, in London at least,
it seems clear that there is - it will also be necessary to find
a solution. We consider this further below.