Memorandum by the London Borough of Newham
The London Borough of Newham is responsible
for West Ham Cemetery, the only municipal cemetery within the
borough. Within Newham there is the City of London Cemetery, Manor
Park, East London and Woodgrange cemeteries as well as Jewish
cemeteries at West Ham, Manor Park and East Ham.
West Ham Cemetery is approximately 22 acres
in size with many hundreds of graves featuring elaborate Victorian
headstones connected to stone kerbs. New graves are a modified
lawn grave type; edging stones delineate the border of the graves
and the grave surface may be planted with flowers. The cemetery
is virtually full and the majority of new burials take place within
re-opened family graves or previously reclaimed graves.
West Ham Cemetery has one full time cemetery
administrative officer and three full time grounds' maintenance
Many cemeteries are important havens for wildlife;
even small cemeteries can be of great nature conservation value
particularly in urban areas where parks may be the only other
source of greenspace. Cemeteries can often be better than parks
for conservation as there is greater scope to strike a balance
between function and the needs of wildlife. In addition, cemeteries
contain monuments intended to commemorate and praise the dead
in perpetuity and such memorials can often be fine examples of
This is demonstrated by several cemeteries and
churchyards in London being upon the Register of Parks and Gardens
of Special Historic Interest maintained by English Heritage.
Active management for nature conservation does
take place in a number of cemeteries. St Mary Magdalene churchyard
in East Ham is one example, where the grounds are managed by London
Borough of Newham as a nature reserve with an interpretation centre
and educational staff.
Cemeteries are an undervalued environmental
resource that could provide a potential route for the involvement
of communities in the Local Agenda 21 process, contribute to tourism
and add to the value of a neighbourhood positively affecting property
In, what is increasingly, a secular age it is
easy to underestimate the cultural significance of cemeteries.
However virtually all members of society will, at some time, visit
a cemetery for a funeral and many of the bereaved will regularly
visit for contemplation and the remembrance of the dead. Cemeteries
therefore play an important part in the formalisation of loss
and inevitably reflect the religious and artistic disposition
of prevailing cultures. Cemeteries provide a resource of real
importance to local people and can have a positive impact upon
In recognition of the environmental and cultural
significance of cemeteries there needs to be a widening of roles
for cemetery staff from simply managing the site to include supporting
the popular interest in family history tracing, working with schools,
promoting environmental awareness and conservation and encouraging
community involvement including facilitating "friends of
. . . " schemes for cemeteries.
The standard of maintenance and of operations
of cemeteries varies widely and this applies both to the private
and public sectors. Underfunding is, however, a relatively common
theme. Maintaining a cemetery can be expensive; the costs of grounds
maintenance, management of memorials and repairing paths, fences
and walls can be substantial. The problem is particularly significant
for cemeteries that lack a crematorium facility and so cannot
Although improvements in standards are encouraged
by organisations such as the Confederation of Burial Authorities
(CBA) and the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration
(IBCA) there are insufficient compulsory standards and no effective
enforcement. Newham council regularly receives complaints about
the condition of a private cemetery within the borough. There
are obviously expectations from the public and they are disappointed
to discover that the council has only limited control under current
Shortage of burial space is a major problem,
particularly in the London area. This will lead not only to a
reduction in choice, London residents having to travel outside
the capital for funerals and to visit graves, but will also result
in the inevitable decline of cemeteries. Fewer burials will reduce
income and less resources will lead to a deterioration in the
condition of a cemetery. This is a vicious circle that will eventually
result in a working cemetery, with regular visitors, becoming
a neglected site that detracts from the local environment rather
than enhancing it. This problem can be partly addressed by the
proposal of `re-use' where existing graves over 100 years old
can be re-cycled, where there are no objections from the families
of the deceased.
DETR, AND OTHER
I have mentioned above inadequate standards
and the lack of effective enforcement concerning the condition
of cemeteries. It is vital that the importance of cemeteries to
society is recognised and championed by government. A central
body is required to co-ordinate planning, set quality standards,
audit cemeteries; progress options for funding and develop national
policy. Such a body could be modelled upon a number of central
agencies, the Food Standards Authority for example, and involve
all recognised and relevant organisations in the process. A central
organisation could co-ordinate and supervise a system of inter-borough
audit, a technique that has been both successful and cost effective
in the assessment of food safety and housing enforcement.
The council has a legal obligation to undertake
maintenance in closed churchyards under the Local Government act
1972. This is a difficult area for many local authorities as budgets
can be insufficient. The extent of this responsibility is not
clearly defined under the legislation and is complicated by the
fact that the churchyard remains under the control of the incumbent
and is subject to the control of the bishop's consistory court.
This would enable the church to veto proposals for maintenance
by the local authority without the responsibility of contributing
financially to their preferred scheme. In addition, further closed
churchyards could be transferred to the local authority upon an
order in council with no additional allowance in the Standard
Spending Assessment. This will mean either low standards or cost
cutting in other areas of service provision, a problem that would
be exacerbated if the churchyards were in a state of dilapidation.
A review of the legislation would be welcomed to more precisely
define the responsibilities and liabilities of both the local
authority and the church and to consider the option of enabling
the local authority to refuse the transfer of a churchyard in
poor state of repair.
The current approach to long term planning is
uncoordinated and diverse with each local authority pursuing (or
not pursuing) individual policies. A legal duty placed upon local
authorities to ensure adequate burial provision within their own
area coupled with a central body to co-ordinate planning would
address this problem. Future planning of burial provision must
take account of changing public attitudes and new initiatives
such as relatively low maintenance woodland burial and also encourage
the involvement of the voluntary sector and religious organisations.
Planning and any future duty upon a local authority
to ensure burial provision must take account of the scarcity of
suitable sites for cemeteries in inner London and the high cost
of land. Large-scale creation of new cemeteries in London in the
long term will be a major challenge. This means that legislation
to enable the controlled recycling of graves for re-use is vital
to alleviate the lack of burial space in the medium term. This
was proposed within the report `Planning for Burial Space in London'
by the London Planning Advisory Committee in 1997. In addition,
the existing powers within London to reclaim vacant space within
graves under the Local Authorities Cemeteries Orders of 1974 and
1977 should be extended to cover local authorities outside the
I have already mentioned above the variable
standards of management and provision that may be found in both
public and private cemeteries. Although the CBA and IBCA have
acted to encourage improvements a national central agency is required.
This should set quality and performance targets, establish safety
standards, disseminate good practice, set indicatory charging
scales, develop national policy and co-ordinate the planning of
burial provision. This agency could also develop and require the
application of integrated cemetery management plans, that take
account of the local environment, conservation, safety and the
expressed needs of users and the local community.
A review is required of the Local Authorities
Cemeteries Order 1997, the principle legislation relating to the
management of cemeteries. Input from all interested and relevant
parties should be sought and legislative amendments should encourage
choice in burial and in memorialisation, support flexibility to
take account of local conditions and community requirements and
set a maximum term of 50 years for the sale of burial rights to
maximise burial capacity.
Underfunding of cemeteries is a common problem
as local authorities are faced with pressures to closely control
expenditure and have to resolve conflicting priorities for funding.
In Newham, for example, there is an understandable political priority
for education and social services. The significance of cemeteries
therefore need to be promoted by government and the cemetery service
needs within the authority must be taken into account when the
level of central funding for the authority is decided. Standard
setting by a central, national agency could also help cemeteries
received greater precedence at a local level.
At present the existing sources of funding for
initiatives such as historical conservation are disparate and
developmental funding is often not available. For example, match
funding for projects is of relatively little value for a cemetery
with a small budget. It will be necessary for government to disseminate
good practice and co-ordinate funding for cemeteries. In addition
the objectives for lottery funding could be reviewed to take into
account the case for increased spending upon cemeteries to preserve
and enhance the local environment.
As well as searching for funding it will be
necessary to examine new ways of cemetery management including
partnerships, community ownership, charitable trust status, or
sites becoming nature reserves as low-cost public space.
The main points for future action from my submission
may be summarised as follows:
The government needs to recognise
the significance of cemeteries and champion their continuation
as an integral part of the framework of society.
A central, national, agency is required
to set quality and performance targets, audit cemeteries, develop
national policy and co-ordinate the planning of burial provision.
In order to function effectively
cemeteries require adequate funding. Central government should
give greater emphasis upon cemetery needs when setting the Standards
Spending assessment for the local authority and should co-ordinate
central action for improved funding and review lottery funding
A review of current legislation regulating
the operations of cemeteries is required to encourage choice,
innovation and maximisation of burial spaces. The proven shortage
of burial space, particularly in London, makes amendments to enable
the re-cycling of graves vital.
A review of the legislation applying
to the maintenance of closed churchyards is required in order
to clearly define the responsibilities and liabilities of both
local authorities and the Church of England.
Service Unit Manager