Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Confederation of Burial Authorities (CEM 39)

INTRODUCTION

  The CBA was established in 1995 by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration. It has 260 members (listing herewith). Its principal objectives are to develop, promote and encourage proper practice for the service, to encourage professional competence amongst those engaged in the service and to foster mutual co-operation in all matters affecting the service.

  The CBA defers to the IBCA for its technical advice and it is a requirement that all full members agree to adopt and abide by codes of practice promulgated by the IBCA. The CBA has endorsed the Institute's "Charter for the Bereaved".

ENVIRONMENTAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CEMETERIES FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES

    "The main object of a cemetery is the disposal of the remains of the dead, in such a manner that their decomposition and return to the earth shall not prove injurious to the living, either by affecting health or by shocking feelings, opinions or prejudices".

    John Claudius London, Architect 1843—"The Laying Out, Planting and Management of Cemeteries".

  Until the middle of the 19th century the burial of the dead was seen as a religious function; the Church controlling the majority of sites. Often these sites had existed for several hundred years sustained by a system of re-use or over-burial. However, a rapidly increasing urban population and concerns over the insanitary conditions of many inner city sites, led to a call for alternative provision. This call was heeded primarily by joint stock (for profit) companies and municipal (not for profit) burial boards. Paradoxically these cemeteries (mostly full) now offer valuable open space relief for the living (particularly in built-up areas) and, equally important, excellent habitats for plant and wildlife.

  During the period of transition from churchyard to cemetery a large number of statutes were passed relating to the management of cemeteries in the public sector. Most of these have now been repealed and replaced by the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order 1977. Cemeteries in the private sector still operate under the outdated Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847.

  A cemetery, properly managed, will provide a self-sustaining focus for the collective memory of a community for generations; creating a sense of continuity and pride.

THE CONDITION OF EXISTING CEMETERIES

    "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I shall measure with mathematical exactness their tender mercies toward their people and their respect for the laws of the land".

    William Ewart Gladstone.

  Cemeteries today range from the scandalously neglected to the truly outstanding. The CBA has, through its sponsorship of an annual awards scheme, sought to identify those in the latter category. Standards generally though are poor and are set to fall further. In the public sector this can be attributed to the continuing indiscriminate cuts in town hall budgets. This has resulted in the elimination of on-site security and regular maintenance. This neglect has allowed vandalism and theft to increase and memorials, particularly headstones, to become a hazard. Almost every burial authority turns a blind eye to the fact that the sale of a burial plot is a long term commitment and neglects to defer income over the life of the contract.

  Many cemeteries have or are soon to reach the end of their lives. In the past 10 years alone an additional 400 acres has been given over to cemetery use. And this is not just a "City" issue. Town and Parish councils regularly seek advice from the CBA on extending existing or establishing new burial grounds. Incidentally, many of these councils report vociferous opposition to their plans. It is the CBA's view that a system of re-use must be implemented soon. This would involve a process called "lift and deepen" and would, in essence, permit the re-cycling of graves over 100 years old where no family interest can be established—see "Long-term planning for new cemeteries and burial space" post. Such a move is essential if more land is not to be appropriated, in many cases, many miles distant from the communities expected to make use of it.

THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

  The provision and management of burial grounds is often described as the "Cinderella" service. Ugly sister might be more appropriate. Town Halls have regularly shifted control between departments. No one, it seems, really wants to talk about the dead let alone have the responsibility for burying them. There is hardly a local government department under which the service has not been placed—eg Leisure and Recreation, Environmental Health, Parks & Amenities and even Tourism! In truth, the operation and management of cemeteries and crematoria is highly specialised and complex and deserves autonomy under, perhaps, the banner of "Bereavement Services".

  At central government level one would turn until recently to the Department of the Environment for guidance on burial matters. Now it is the turn of the Home Office, via their Animal, Byelaws and Coroner's Section!

  During the past year the CBA has willing assisted the latter, by providing both technical advice and funding, for the first of a number of cemetery inspections. However, it supports the call by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration for the appointment of a full-time Inspector(ate).

  In its short life CBA has also been involved in the following:

    —  Annual educational seminar.

    —  Survey into London's Burial Space Needs—RTPI award 1997.

    —  Cemetery of the Year awards—inaugurated 1998.

    —  Exhumation Handbook—published 1998.

    —  Cemetery Operatives Training Scheme—April 1998.

    —  London Cemetery & Crematorium Managers' Forum.

    —  Management of Memorials Survey—published 2000.

    —  UK Directory of Cemeteries & Crematoria.

    —  Regional Training Days.

  The CBA recognises that disposal by cremation is complementary and seeks a merger with the Federation of British Cremation Authorities.

  The CBA recognises the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration as the "lead" organisation for the service.

LONG-TERM PLANNING FOR NEW CEMETERIES AND BURIAL SPACE

  Forward planning has exercised the minds of responsible cemetery managers through the years. In 1944, for instance, the institute of Burial and Cremation Administration's forerunner, the National Association of Cemetery Superintendents, sought to address the problem in a paper entitled "Planning for the post-war reform in the disposition of the dead". To place this paper in context in 1944 just 7 per cent of deaths resulted in cremation. Today it is nearer 72 per cent.

  Quote:

    "The ideal condition for calculating a cemetery area for each locality would be a burial system which would allow for indefinite re-use of graves. The Swiss method (as at Basel) is probably the nearest modern approach to this ideal, but it is doubted whether the full scheme would be acceptable to established public opinion in our country. It might however be possible to introduce the method here gradually by designing sections of new cemeteries on these lines, with modifications to meet our traditional usages, thereby encouraging its wider adoption as and when the public appreciate its advantages, particularly as the maximum utilisation of land for the benefit of the living is so vital in the British Isles".

  In 1997 the CBA, the Corporation of London and the London Planning Advisory Committee funded a report on burial space provision. That report, running to over 400 pages, contained the same conclusion, namely, that the re-use of graves must be addressed. In excess of £100,000 pounds has now been expended on this and other studies, including a public survey into re-use.

  It is a curious state of affairs that once declared "full" a cemetery can be closed, declared disused and, subject to certain procedures in relation to monuments and the removal and reinterment of human remains, be redeveloped for uses other than further burials. Re-use is the only sustainable strategy. It has been practised in churchyards for decades. The judge in the case of Gilbert v Buzzard (1820) said: "A burial ground in a churchyard is not the property of one generation, those who are now dead; it is the common property of the living and of the generations yet unborn, and is subject only to temporary appropriations".

THE MANAGEMENT AND PROVISION OF CEMETERY SERVICES

  In a paper given at the Joint Conference of Burial & Cremation Authorities in Torquay this year, the President of the IBCA Dr. Ian Hussein, made a case for Regional Committees. Such a development, he commended, would eliminate the current fragmented approach toward the provision, management and operation of municipal burial and cremation facilities across the UK. These facilities, he concluded, desperately need a strategic and long term planning approach on a regional basis.

  The problems, he contends, are the same wherever you go:

    —  Villages, towns and cities are running out of burial space;

    —  There is no coherent policy nor the resources to deal with millions of old gravestones that are dilapidated and, in many cases, unstable, making cemeteries unsafe places to visit;

    —  The deterioration of historic cemetery landscapes and a continual decline in the fabric and infrastructure of our cemeteries, which date back to the middle of the 19th century will continue;

    —  Municipal cemeteries and annual deficits go hand in hand. We blindly subsidise burial and not cremation;

    —  We have no strategic approach to the control of pollution from cemeteries and crematoria.

  The CBA accords with these views.

December 2000


 
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