Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Kirklees Metropolitan Council (CEM 40)


  This report is submitted in response to a request for memoranda to assist the Environment Sub-Committee's inquiry into cemeteries. It is understood that the Confederation of Burial Authorities (CBA) and the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration (IBCA) will be making their own submissions. This report describes the views held by this Authority in respect to the specific areas that the Sub-Committee wish to examine.


2.1  Environmental

  In many cases Kirklees cemeteries represent the only urban green space for local communities. They therefore not only provide valuable burial facilities but also a significant and imposing landscape which is seen by many as their local park or gardens. This high profile means that the local community primarily for aesthetic and safety reasons expects quality maintenance to the buildings and grounds.

2.2  Historical Significance

  The first burial in a cemetery now managed by Kirklees Council was in 1852. There are 13 cemeteries in Kirklees and the last one opened in 1902. Each cemetery has something important to offer in historical terms, whether it is from a family, local, national or international perspective. The buildings, memorials, landscaped grounds and the very people who have been buried (including those in Commonwealth War Graves) attract world-wide interest, particularly from those researching their family history.

2.3  Cultural Significance

  The interest of local people in ensuring that our cemeteries are maintained should not be underestimated. There is evidence that the bereaved need more than ever to mourn the death of someone close to them. Lawn cemeteries with uniform grave presentation were very much the vogue in the years after the Second World War, but more and more people nowadays want to undertake grave planting and the placing of artefacts on graves. As a burial authority we want to give our customers what they want but must recognise that grave maintenance provision will have to be reviewed.

  In the Kirklees area around 9 per cent of the population are of the Muslim faith. Last year 11 per cent of our burials was for the Muslim community. Arrangements exist to accommodate same day burial wherever possible, while Muslim graves require specific preparation to meet the demands of the holy Koran. The relationship with the Muslim community is a very strong one and particular efforts are being made to meet their requests for weekend burials, prayer space and ritual washing facilities.


  The overall condition of cemeteries varies from site to site. While a few cemeteries are in reasonable condition, others are in very poor state indeed. The following are just a few of the factors that affect the condition of a cemetery:

    (i)  Location. Urban cemeteries in residential areas with people making regular use of a cemetery as a thoroughfare are more prone to vandalism and anti-social behaviour than ones in outlying areas. The buildings and larger memorials combined with the sheer size of the cemetery make them ready targets for vandals operating after dark.

    (ii)  Staffing. It is clear that those cemeteries with staff permanently on site are less prone to vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Unfortunately it is not economically viable to make this arrangement for more than two of our cemeteries.

    (iii)  Volume of business. Grave digging performed regularly in a section of a cemetery damages the affected landscape and takes several months to rectify.

    (iv)  Age. Buildings and memorials require substantial year-on-year investment to maintain to a safe standard. Many of these features date back to the Victorian era. The chapels are no longer used for funeral services while very few of the older graves are visited and maintained by the owner. The maintenance burden therefore increases on the Council as we dispose of over 700 bodies a year and add to the size of the problem.

  It is estimated that around £250K per year for the next five years would be required to undertake the levels of repair and maintenance needed to bring our cemeteries into shape. This is around £200K per year short of the actual provision that can be afforded at the present time.


  While the Council does well with the resources it has at its disposal in running a cemeteries and crematoria service, the gap between what is achieved and what is needed is untenable. The problem needs to be recognised at the very highest level of Government and a first important step would be to set up one central department to co-ordinate and direct the management, protection and public policy on cemeteries and crematoria.

  There is a distinct need for a complete review and consolidation of the law as it stands for cemeteries and crematoria, as much of this is conflicting, out of date and unclear. Land use and the ever diminishing burial land is a national problem that will not go away. Some level of government intervention is necessary to bridge the financial void between availability and need.

  If the Government want to grasp the nettle then the opportunity should be taken to develop a unified approach that ensures that each authority is given the best direction and advice available. A national cemeteries and crematoria agency would meet this need.


  Under the current Best Value review of Kirklees cemeteries and crematoria a plan is being developed that will spell out our future burial land requirement. Provisional figures are not encouraging. At least two cemeteries will close within 14 years. Others have less than 30 years of new grave space available.

  One dilemma for the Council is how to balance the need to make best use of the land available while meeting environmental needs through the possible introduction of woodland burial. We also need to make appropriate allowances in our planning for Muslim burials which are 60 per cent larger than our standard graves and, like woodland schemes, only take one burial (a standard grave will take two bodies).

  It is important to make best use of our current burial land and provide for future land in any planning proposals that increase the residential population and introduce new housing (itself taking up valuable land).


  Local authorities and the private sector provide cemetery services. In a local authority cemeteries can come under the control of leisure, environmental services, technical services or other sections of the council. While there are arguments for each case this situation only adds to the confusion sometimes expressed by customers about where to find the cemeteries service.

  The real problem is the priority given to cemeteries within the local government setting. Thankfully in Kirklees positive steps are being made to raise the profile and public awareness of cemeteries and encouraging signs are emerging that this might be reflected in budgetary allocations to this historically under-funded activity.

  Pressure for additional funding for cemeteries has in the main come from voluntary groups like the Batley Cemetery Support Group and the Dewsbury Cemetery Action Group. These groups have actively campaigned for additional resources to be set-aside for their particular cemeteries, as well as assisting the Council in attracting external funding from Europe and SRB allocations. Interestingly these groups see the cemeteries as belonging to the people of the respective towns where they are situated. This might lead one to the conclusion that some kind of cemetery trust arrangement would be mutually beneficial for the future management of cemeteries. This option is actually being pursued with respect to the future management of the Chapels at Batley Cemetery.

  Nationally, as already stated, there is a strong argument for a lead government agency to co-ordinate and direct national policy on cemeteries.


  In Kirklees the annual budget subsidy to cemeteries for 2000-01 stands at £325K, after taking into account an income return of around £290K. To break even the Council would have to increase fees by over 100 per cent at current expenditure levels. This increase would make no impact on the five-year repair programme described under 3 above.

  The National Lottery might provide the solution. However this Council was not encouraged in 1997 when a bid for £1.2 million for restoring Batley Cemetery was rejected. The Sub-committee will note that advice from the Heritage Lottery Fund at the time was that over 270 local authorities applied for HLF monies at the time, of which only four were successful. There simply was not enough funding to go round and Kirklees were advised to try to lobby the HLF Trustees to develop a fund specifically set aside for cemeteries. As a result the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration were asked to take up the cause but as yet with little or no success.

  Kirklees have recently been advised by the HLF that we should avoid bidding for repair and restoration work to memorials. Perhaps they see this as an activity which the Council should be undertaking using their own resources. A latest estimate indicates around £150K will be needed over the next three years to deal with memorials that are known to be in need of attention. Given the obvious heritage value of these memorials would it be possible for the HLF to reconsider its spending criteria to include repairs to memorials that have fallen into decay through their age alone?

December 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 March 2001