Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Alan Rice, Community Initiative Partnerships (CEM 75)

  The following submissions are made, in the main, to a local context, ie Hounslow, but additionally to a more broad national consideration.

  1.  The significance of Cemeteries, Historically, Environmentally and Culturally for local communities.

  1.1  Historically—the submission, it is felt, has to be considered in two ways, firstly with regards the constituted purpose of cemeteries and secondly with relation to the care and preservation of cemeteries (local heritage).

  1.2  "Constituted purpose", in a multi-cultural society where, and noticeably so, the desired means of disposal of the dead is inclined towards burial "reversing" to some extent, the cremation trend, the importance and significance therefore of cemeteries in that regard, now as in times past cannot be stressed too strongly.

  1.3  Hounslow has a broad and diverse ethnic quality which, although very different from the communities of the past has a discernible consistency.

  1.4  From the families of the old home nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and our near European neighbours, all have found support and understanding from the present governing authority and/or past administrations with regards disposal of the dead.

  1.5  Burial, or indeed cremation, of the dead is today carried out with greater respect to the requirements of the divers cultures that exist in Hounslow. There is more appreciation of both the religious requirements and personal desires, which is actively demonstrated, where physically possible, via the opportunity to participate fully and in the manner appropriate in the act of disposal of a loved one.

  1.6  However there are areas where personal desires and/or religious requirements are still not met, eg washing facilities as in "ghusl" (muslim funeral practice).

  1.7  "Preservation of cemeteries", apart from the act of disposal (funeral) there are other areas where public/local participation is demonstrated. There are a growing number of "friends" who take particular interest in the maintenance and care of cemeteries and the commemoration therein. Additionally there are genealogists and/or local historians who glean much from reading headstones and although time has eclipsed the more tangible presence of long departed members of the community the importance of them and this work or study ensures that their importance is no less diminished.

  2.  Environmentally, the settings (cemeteries) where these individuals lie are, or can be, places of great beauty and interest, an oasis, making them a welcome relief from the busy world outside. To reinforce the case, if it is to be of issue, these places of beauty, in addition to parks and open spaces are viewed as supplementary lungs of our towns and cities, particularly with the advance of the built environment.

  2.1  Local Authorities have suffered severe funding cuts or spending restraints in recent years resulting in deterioration of standards in parks cemeteries. This should be redressed.

  2.2  Funding from other sources, whether it be in the form of advertising or Public Private Partnerships, is in most cases not possible given the unique purpose of these places.

  3.  Cultural—whereas the manner of disposal of the dead varies greatly from community to community the importance of the bereavement process cannot be stressed too strongly, whatever the culture. Bereavement spans the broad spectrum of the populace death is part of life and not a subject to evade. It is recognised that the bereaved need periods of quiet reflection and that the support agencies that exist in this regard help greatly.

  3.1  In addition to these agencies local authorities have an important role to play not just in the presentation of the facility (conducive to the grief process) but also in the training and briefing their staff receive with regards respect for the recently bereaved.


  4.1  Under present legislation every authority that has responsibility for cemeteries is obligated to maintain them in good and reasonable condition (Section 214 Local Government Act 1972 & Cemeteries Order 1977).

  4.2  There are however areas that although covered by legislation are neglected through lack of funds. Much could be done to secure the continuing use of cemeteries old and new be it to its constituted purpose via re-use of old graves or to a more pastoral use—transforming the grounds and re-designating them Memorial Parks.

  4.3  The obvious large, old and ex private cemeteries, where income has ceased and whose care and maintenance are now vested under local authorities, receive considerable criticism with regard to neglect of grounds from the public.

  4.4  Public cemeteries, periodically, receive similar criticism and it should be recognised that most can be avoided with the employment of personnel with experience, particularly management. Some authorities fail to recognise or appreciate the need for suitable staff and the training requirements.

  4.5  Cemeteries sections (management and provision) can be in inappropriate divisions or sections of large local authority departments where funding considerations tends to lean toward the purpose of the mother establishment.

  5.  Long-term planning, new cemeteries—the obvious problem is land, whether in the outer London boroughs or within the M25 enclosure area. Cemeteries should be established near to the area they serve. Anywhere else could be construed as being tantamount to an admission of insensitivity.

  5.1  Much is said, at present, with regards Brownfield sites. Sites such as these have generally only been recognised for inner city housing and industrial use (see 5.3).

  5.2  Adverting (see 1.2) to reference to burial/cremation trends made earlier where it was noted that evidence exists as to a reversal, although slight, which is somewhere in the region of 2 per cent.

  5.3  Realistically any new cemetery should consist of at least 50 acres of ground, which equates to about 40,000 graves or 130 years of use. It should be noted that the above figures are to a local consideration (Hounslow).

  6.  In summary, it is felt that examination of the present methods of funding, in all aspects of this submission is essential, as is the exploration of provision of alternative funding.

  6.1  Without question funding is, and will always be necessary not just to extend the life of established cemeteries but also the provision of new.

  6.2  It will also be required to upgrade the general maintenance of old cemeteries in order to make them more presentable which in turn may prevent, or preclude, the extensive widespread mindless vandalism.

  6.3  Statutory Measures regarding conversion to lawn type areas (headstone only) particularly of the older cemeteries is an option that must be pursued. It will have a dual effect, ie reducing maintenance costs and provide a setting for continued public use, "transforming old or older cemeteries into memorial parks" for the greater benefit of all and thereby visually enhancing eligibility for funding.

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