Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Pendle Borough Council (CEM 36)


  1.  The Borough of Pendle is situated in Northeast Lancashire between Burnley and the Yorkshire boundary and covers some 169.52 sq kms with a population of approximately 85,000.

  2.  There are six municipal cemeteries within the Borough, which date from 1,860 and currently contain 40,600 burials. At the present time the Authority carries out an average of 200 interments per annum.

  3.  There are a number of problems that are currently being encountered by Burial Authorities but within Pendle the most serious and pressing is one of the SAFETY OF MEMORIALS and its long term effect financially, as an historical resource and as a liability.

  4.  As the committee will be aware there have been over the past few years a number of fatalities particularly involving children who have been playing in cemeteries.

  5.  Whether it is right to play in an designated for the remembrance of the departed is not in this instance an issue. However, the fact is that Local Authorities have to look to the safety of all who use, or enter their facilities, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, whilst "grave owners" may not appreciate their responsibility to inspect and maintain memorials once they have been erected.


  6.  One of the main areas of concern is encountered when a memorial is found to be unsafe. What should be done to render it safe?

    (a)  Immediately lay it down.

    (b)  Have it repaired.

  7.  At present if the memorial is of a modern construction the laying it down on surrounding turf is not a major problem. However problems do arise in that:

    (a)  A family cannot be contacted as they have moved and not bothered or forgotten to have the cemetery records altered. (No legal responsibility to ensure grave records are amended).

    (b)  If the family are contacted they accuse the Local Authority of legalised vandalism even though photographic evidence may be available.

    (c)  Families then plead poverty, cannot pay, or simply refuse to pay.

  8.  With larger memorials there are additional problems to those mentioned above in 7a, b and c.

    (a)  Larger memorials present other problems in that because of their size and weight they cannot be laid down. These have to be labelled as dangerous and a specialist contractor employed to make them safe. In the meantime unscrupulous claimants make false claims knowing a memorial is unsafe.

    (b)  Recovery of any financial expenditure is in these cases almost impossible as the families will have died out or do not wish to know even if they can be contacted.

  9.  Carrying out work to make safe memorials often results in the media sensationalising what an Authority is attempting to achieve by carrying out its duty of care.

  10.  On the other hand if the Authority does nothing and there is an accident it is again castigated within the same press for its lack of safety procedures.

  11.  In both instances the Authority looses out and is held responsible, even though it may have informed grave owners of their responsibilities.

  12.  When a grave is purchased (in most instances this is when a bereavement takes place) paperwork is sent to families at a time when they are extremely distressed following a death. All that is paramount is to have a memorial erected to the memory of a loved one. Little or no thought is given to problems in the future.

  13.  There is at present no national/local standards/specifications for the installation and erecting of memorials that can be used to guarantee safety.


  14.  The responsibility for safety within a municipal cemetery is that of the Local Authority and safety checks are now a fact of life in that in order to reduce the liability for any damage caused to a third party a fully documented inspection has to be carried out on an annual basis.

  15.  This safety check should be done by trained employees or contractors and will be at the cost of the Authority even though the responsibility for a memorial is that of the grave owner.

  16.  In all instances the cost of safety work can be out against a grave for recovery at a future date. However the chances of this actually occurring (as previously stated) are very slim.


  17.  In many cases memorials that are dangerous also tend to be of historical importance to a town. Such a memorial if removed will bring unprecedented rebuke.

  18.  Within Local Authorities there are also CLOSED CHURCHYARDS that have been passed to the Authority for maintenance.

  19.  In many instances these churchyards have memorials that predate most Local Authority cemeteries, they may also contain war memorials or war graves.

  20.  Whose responsibility are these memorials? The church if still in existence the Parish or Diocese, War Graves Commission etc?

  21.  As the Local Authority has assumed responsibility for the churchyard it is the Authority that normally picks up the responsibility for these areas. However if it wishes to remove a memorial it will still have to apply for a faculty.

  22.  The body granting the faculty will not however provide financial assistance towards maintaining a towns historic record in stone.


  23.  Local Authority cemeteries are on the whole maintained to a high standard. However, problems do arise where conversions to lawn type cemeteries have occurred, some memorials were not altered incorrectly making them inherently unsafe. In some areas where memorials were not altered these areas have to be maintained by hand.


  24.  Local Authority cemeteries are facing a crisis in that room for expansion is not being catered for within a majority Local Plans.

  25.  Some Authorities are in the position of having additional burial grounds or extensions to existing facilities thanks to the foresight of planners in days gone by.

  26.  Unfortunately there are cases where this land has been used for other purposes over the years (ie grazing) and is now considered to be part of the green belt or an area of public open space because Authorities have not informed residents.

  27.  When time comes to bring this land onto use as a burial ground opposition is met because planning permission is required for change of use.


  28.  The financial burden placed on Local Authorities in respect of safety from a memorial point of view is becoming intolerable. In addition the problems of additional burial space, suitable land and laying out costs provide Burial Authorities with unprecedented financial problems.

  29.  The fact that the recovery costs for carrying out inspections cannot be made means that in many instances, residents living in one authority subsidise the maintenance of memorials for people living in another authority, or even in other countries or, in many instances for families that have died out.

  30.  Burial fees cannot be high enough to meet all the requisites of a burial ground ensuring sufficient funds are available to carry out additional elements such as safety work and the provision of new burial grounds.

  31.  Even if they could the fees would be so high that usage of a cemetery would cease, income would be non existent and Authorities would still be expected to maintain the burial ground.

  32.  With a majority of churches now relinquishing their responsibilities in respect of churchyards these are becoming the responsibility of Local Authorities and therefore placing an added financial burden on the local taxpayer.


  33.  Local Authorities now have to find finances not only for routine cemetery maintenance but also for the added burden of safety inspections, memorial repairs, increased insurance premiums and in many instances the provision of new burial grounds.

  34.  The recovery of debt on a grave prior to a future interment is extremely difficult to administer and does present the cemetery official with a dilemma when confronted with a situation that has to be remedied to everyone's satisfaction within a few hours.

  35.  In most instances a family arranging a burial will be unaware that there is an outstanding debt on a grave. To be informed prior to a burial that a debt is payable is extremely insensitive and can bring authorities into conflict.

  36.  It is therefore essential that funding be made available not only for initial survey work but also for memorial repairs and administration from an outside or centrally administered agency.

  37.  In addition any Government must be able to provide Local Authorities with capital funding for the purchase and layout of new burial grounds of legislation and funding for the reuse of existing burial grounds.


  38.  As part of the expected maintenance regime of a cemetery the inspection, identification and making safe of potentially dangerous memorials is one of the most important aspects.

  39.  It is also one of the most problematical from a public liaison point of view and financial resource in respect of making safe, repairs and insurance premiums.

  40.  It is therefore essential that:

    (a)  Some form of external funding which will off set the increased financial burden being incurred by Burial Authorities carrying out inspections and safety measures.

    (b)  A national standard in respect of carrying out safety inspections be produced.

    (c)  A national standard specification for memorialisation and installation be produced.

    (d)  A national performance indicator be produced for monitoring cemetery inspections.

    (e)  That Burial Authorities should be informed as part of a statutory duty when grave owners change addresses.

  41.  In respect of maintaining burial facilities within Authorities:

    (a)  Funding from Central Government should be provided for new Burial facilities, and/or legislation should be forthcoming that will allow the re-use of existing burial grounds.

December 2000

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