Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (CEM 74)

INTRODUCTION

  This report has concentrated on the provision of cemetery services, however, crematorium services are clearly integrally linked to the modern day bereavement service and will be commented on as appropriate.

  Cemeteries have historically been subject to: management with limited long term planning; a lack of investment opportunities; low recognition as a valuable asset within our cultural history and undervalued as a habitat for bio-diversity.

  The Cemetery in the City report (Comedia 1997) was accepted as a useful document, outlining the challenges facing cemetery services at the time, which are still relevant today. Stockport has used the guidance within the report to act as a framework for developing the service.

  Recently the Council has noted an increase in the number of private companies which are interested in managing a cemetery and crematorium service on behalf of the Authority. Further work is needed in Stockport to determine if operating in partnership with such agencies would add value to the service provided, and so represent Best Value to the local community.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CEMETERIES FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES

General comment

    —  Cemeteries clearly hold a high significance with the local community, with many people who otherwise do not visit cemeteries wanting to feel comfortable in the knowledge that they are available when required.

    —  Cemeteries are not necessarily a local resource and can be of regional and national value.

    —  There is a lack of management information to demonstrate the worth of cemeteries outside of their primary function, in terms of the impact on the environment, history and culture of an area.

ENVIRONMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE

    —  The management of cemeteries can significantly contribute to the sustainability agenda, promoting local Agenda 21 and Bio-diversity plans.

    —  Cemeteries represent considerable areas of greenspace, especially within the urban townscape.

    —  Many sites have been subject to minimal recent change, therefore these areas act as important refuges for wildlife and so offer opportunities for conservation.

    —  Older types of memorial are a haven for lichens/mosses etc.

    —  Less visited areas can be developed into sites of significant bio-diversity value.

    —  Maintenance costs—reduction in available finance has meant the introduction and development of wildlife areas in cemeteries. An education programme is needed to ensure customers accept that wildflower cemeteries are not accidental but exist as a result of management choice to promote bio-diversity. This type of development is not generally appreciated by all visitors or the bereaved as they perceive the areas to be uncared for.

    —  Environmental richness versus ease of maintenance—to keep maintenance costs down there is a move towards large lawned cemeteries which are limited in bio-diversity [especially the case with new cemeteries].

    —  The level of maintenance carried out should be much higher.

    —  Change in visitor transport methods, with more visitors using cars, resulting in pressure for car parking and on roadways.

    —  The balance between burial and environmental concerns regarding cremation [EPA] could have a significant impact on whether cremation or burial is favoured in future, owing to the potential application of prohibitive costs, which reflect the associated impact of the respective activity on the environment.

    —  The application of pollution controls on the decay material of the dead reaching the water cycle.

    —  Changes in coffin design does directly affect the breakdown material produced, including the use of environmentally friendly cardboard coffins. Greener applications are being introduced.

    —  Woodland burials—more opportunity for habitat development. Indigenous woodlands provide excellent habitats, but have specific maintenance requirements.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

  The historical value of cemeteries is often overlooked as a primary record of local history,

    —  Cemeteries and their link to local heritage.

    —  Tombs of local dignitaries [Private tombs etc].

    —  Reflection of social and cultural change.

    —  Can illustrate differences between social classes.

    —  Illustrates fashions in burial and commemoration.

    —  As an educational resource in its broadest sense.

    —  Cemeteries have as much significance as recognised heritage buildings in terms of value and esteem.

    —  Stockport MBC was made up of a number of Urban Districts—different approaches across the borough [i.e. design, lay out, socio economic indicators] enabling comparison.

    —  Modern day memorialisation equates to tomorrow's history.

    —  Wording on memorialisation acts as primary historical evidence, supporting family history and geneology study.

    —  Pavement cemeteries, which have been fashionable, are now in danger of the memorialisation being worn off by the weather and foot traffic.

    —  Often economic development pressure overides the historical significance of cemeteries eg supermarket at Edgeley: road widening, car parking etc resulting moving bodies to new resting place. As a consequence records of historical importance become fragmented.

    —  Many original cemeteries were built with high regard to ornate walls/copings/memorials with a high historical and aesthetic value.

    —  There is little historical interpretation of cemeteries within Stockport, which could add value to the sites if developed.

    —  For health and safety and economic reasons memorials are often laid flat, if they fall into a state of disrepair, thus reducing the value of the artefact.

    —  The nature of memorials in cemeteries change over time reflecting the changing prosperity and fashions of a locality, creating a chronological reference.

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

  As part of the bereavement process, cemeteries provide:

    —  A focal point for the bereaved to express their grief.

    —  An opportunity to make a statement ie "Fred was here and was important".

    —  Personal opportunity to say a fond farewell.

    —  People feel very strongly about them—including people who never visit a place of worship.

    —  You do not need to be religious for a cemetery to be important culturally ie it is how we deal with death.

    —  Owing to the increased prevalance of different religions within our society, a wider variety of service delivery approaches are now required to meet the needs of different parts of the community.

    —  Modern day requirements, such as memorialisation by the use of windmills, may be at conflict with traditional perspectives of how a cemetery should be managed/presented.

    —  Single burials is a requirement of certain communities and the accepted norm in Britain, creating pressure on land use.

    —  In some cases cemeteries may be important areas as visitor "attractions", generating internal and external tourism.

    —  Respect for cemeteries is waning, therefore we have an important role in redefining their place in society, so that the facilities are held in high regard by the community.

THE CONDITION OF EXISTING CEMETERIES

    —  The condition of cemeteries are variable depending on the age, ease of maintenance, level of historical funding, and the security arrangements of the sites.

    —  A major issue is the up keep of old memorials where families die off, as they are a direct burden on the Local Authority. There is no money to sustain these memorials, so they are potentially lost as historical artefacts.

    —  Grounds Maintenance—often bland and mechanistic eg Herbicide use and other modern techniques diminish bio-diversity.

    —  Condition of footpaths, drives, drains, walls, fences etc are particularly poor owing to a lack of investment over time.

    —  Housing developments adjacent to cemeteries creates tensions regarding the use of greenspace for leisure purposes—especially with young people playing in cemetery grounds.

    —  The prevention of dog fouling on cemetery land owing to leisure use and a lack of respect for sites traditionally held as sacrasanct.

    —  Some cemeteries have had uniqueness designed out of them for ease of maintenance and health and safety reasons eg Grass lawned cemeteries eg Portwood and Covent Garden Cemeteries in Stockport.

    —  Lack of historical long term investment.

    —  No statutory obligation to maintain burial sites. The money received in year one is not re-invested to sustain the cemeteries infrastructure.

    —  Reactive maintenance/management prevails with an annual/short term view.

    —  The ownership of a memorial is technically with the family, however where repairs and maintenance costs are too high the quality of the memorial may diminish over time.

    —  Further considerations are the maintenance of old cemetery lodges and the location of maintenance depots within cemeteries.

THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE DETR ETC

    —  The Home Office has responsibility for most legislation affecting cemeteries.

    —  The Environment Agency [EA] could significantly affect burial costs if more stringent conditions on drainage water from cemeteries are imposed [control of pollutants]. If the EA does not operate in partnership, then this could have an adverse effect on the provision of cemeteries across the country.

    —  There is no formal register of cemeteries, which could be included in the National Land Information Services [NLIS] register.

    —  Burial and Cremation Association to take a more active role.

    —  Need for co-ordinated approach from other agencies e.g dentists use of mercury in cavity fillings.

    —  Rising costs of cremation through E.P.A may tip balance back towards burial.

    —  The development of future accreditation schemes may help promote the quality of cemetery management.

    —  Protection of sites of heritage importance through a listing scheme managed by English Heritage would help to protect sites and potentially draw in funding. The role of stakeholders needs to be agreed to ensure decisions are not taken in isolation. eg Church Diocese. Local Government and National Government.

    —  Need to improve the long-term planning across all stakeholders.

    —  Legislation to improve the sustainability of cemeteries is needed ie: Financial and Environmental.

THE LONG-TERM PLANNING FOR NEW CEMETERIES AND BURIAL SPACE

    —  Currently there are no statutory requirements on Local Authorities to provide burial space

    —  The current situation in Stockport is that 40 years worth capacity is available. Normally need a 10 year lead in to establish a cemetery.

    —  83 per cent of people are cremated and 15 per cent select burial.

    —  Historically there has been a slow decline in burial with a move towards cremation. However, this relationship is currently relatively stable.

    —  The enforcement of charges by the EPA will influence the preferred method owing to the relative cost associated with cremation or burial.

    —  Demographical change creating a potential increase in land pressure eg certain Ethnic Groups prefer burial which takes up more land.

    —  Baby burial—burying at a much earlier age and at present the service is free of charge in Stockport. Long-term planning guidance needed with regards to baby burials.

THE MANAGEMENT AND PROVISION OF CEMETERY SERVICES

    —  Local authority, private sector or a joint partnership are potential arrangements for the management of cemetery services. The private sector market is maturing with regards to the capacity to deliver Cemetery Services. The Best Value regime is encouraging Local Authorities to look at new ways of managing the provision.

    —  Source of management is not important it is the quality of the service that counts.

    —  Specific niches could be developed further ie business opportunities.

    —  Stockport's approach to existing and future management arrangements:

    —  Public becoming more discerning—the 24 hour booking service introduced at Stockport has been welcomed.

    —  One Stop shop facilities via an intergrated service provision is under consideration.

    —  Effective Marketing and Publicity is essential to remove the myths and fears eg open days etc.

    —  Essential to make the facilities and service welcoming and considerate to the bereaved needs, at a time of heightened emotions/stress.

    —  Attracting high calibre personnel is an issue owing to the nature of the work and consideration is needed to make the job as attractive as possible, with a continuous professional development pathway available for the respective staff.

    —  Customer care vital—people at their loneliest—help and assistance. Use of music at reception—modern facilities well received at Stockport. Front of House needs to be high Quality.

    —  Private maintenance arrangements—some development in this area. National Franchise company with local firms carrying out maintenance.

    —  Stockport MBC—Arrangements for management and provision of cemetery services:

        The Council supplies the following services to the public through the Cemetery and Crematorium section:

        Administration to ensure the accurate booking of funerals, that all statutory documents are supplied, records are kept in the prescribed manner and the cemeteries and memorials within are properly regulated.

      —  Advisory service on all matters connected to cemeteries and crematoria [eg DIY funerals, choice of memorials, inheritance of graves and genealogical searches].

      —  Development in the cemeteries, eg provision and layout of new burial land, adding new aesthetic features [and removing old ones] adjusting the service to changes in public demand.

      —  Gravedigging service via in-house contractor.

      —  Provision of facilities for services, eg chapels, music.

      —  Maintenance of the infrastructure of the cemetery by both in-house and outside contractors and the safety of the cemeteries.

      —  Grounds maintenance by in-house contractor.

      —  Civic funeral service via outside contractor.

FUNDING AND ECONOMICAL VIABILITY ETC

    —  Income targets are used to offset expenditure, however an element of the money should be set aside, to provide a sinking fund to help maintain the facilities. This is not common practice.

    —  Endowment policies—using headstone income to establish a fund for future upkeep, as an area of development.

    —  Heritage value of cemeteries—requires resource procurement as—areas of historical importance.

    —  The qualification criteria for a number of resource procurement streams need to be realigned to enable monies to be released to support the infrastructure of cemeteries eg Heritage Lottery Fund, Landfill Tax etc.

    —  The Church's role in the provision of funding and the future direction.

    —  New cemeteries generate profit owing to high income generation and low maintenance costs which is attractive to private sector operators.

    —  Old cemeteries with low grave space and high associated costs are less attractive.

    —  Must build in long-term financial planning and enable access to funding streams.

    —  Public sector funding in the past had a subsidy built into the rates to support the upkeep of cemeteries but this has been eroded resulting in higher cemetery fees.

GENERAL ISSUES

    —  Evolving trends

      —  New religions.

      —  Woodland burials.

      —  Environmental issues [balance between cremation and burial].

      —  Civic funerals.

      —  Private partnerships.

      —  High Expectations.

    —  Customer Focus.

      —  Front of house must be good.

      —  Predict future needs.

      —  Holistical management/maintenance of cemetery sites/services.

      —  Funeral Directors role—partners.

      —  24 hour access—Improved consultation with customers to ensure the appropriate development of the service

      —  Baby Cemetery.

      —  E Government agenda and application of appropriate technologies.

CONLUSION

  All suppliers of bereavement services must be in tune with changing needs of the bereaved, and consultation is an increasingly important part of Stockport's cemetery management. It is essential that there is the supply of sufficient funding to achieve the long term provision of burial land and also the high quality management and maintenance of cemeteries.

Ben Williams Acting Assistant Director—Leisure

Norman Hudson Head of Land Services

December 2000


 
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Prepared 29 March 2001