Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Wootton Bassett (CEM 78)

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

  In Wootton Bassett the provision of a Cemetery has environmental benefit akin to an open space. The local authority seeks to maintain the Cemetery to a standard whereby mourners can remember loved ones in a pleasant setting. Historically the Cemetery has significance for those tracing family trees and as a general record of the town's history. The Town Council's regulations in respect of monuments are quite relaxed in order to respect the wishes of mourners and build up a historical and cultural record.

THE CONDITION OF EXISTING CEMETERIES

  There is a particular problem in view of the labour intensive maintenance work required in a Cemetery. Grass cutting must be done with small equipment and combined with strimming or weed killing. As the Cemetery becomes increasingly full the labour intensive nature of the work increases. This has a cost implication, which in Wootton Bassett falls on the precept of the town. Given the financial constraint there is often pressure to reduce the staffing levels and therefore the standard of maintenance achievable.

THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE DETR, AND OTHER GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES, IN THE MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION OF CEMETERIES AND PUBLIC POLICY ON CEMETERIES AND CREMATORIA

  There are three areas of interest under this heading and these are as follows:

    (a)  There would appear to be no formal mechanism for inspecting cemeteries to ensure that the conditions of the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order 1977 (No: 204) are met. The District Audit clearly has a role to play but the primary focus here is financial. For example we are aware of no agency that will check to ensure that graves are dug to the specified depth.

    (b)  Although we are not aware of any real pressure to significantly alter the Cemeteries Order, an issue does exist with regard to Planning Policy Guidance. Although the Local Plan process allows for protection of specified new cemetery sites this is an area that could perhaps be given more weight in the planning process.

    (c)  There appears to be a small anomaly as the management of cemeteries appears to be under the jurisdiction of the DETR. However, Exhumation Orders are issued by the Home Office.

LONG-TERM PLANNING FOR NEW CEMETERIES AND BURIAL SPACE

  As with many towns the Wootton Bassett Cemetery is rapidly becoming full and with a shortage of available land, this is becoming an issue of growing concern.

  The availability of land is of great concern and particularly if that land is situated in or close to the town/village centre. As such, the land is likely to have a commercial build value and the cost therefore rises considerably. There is then the issue as to how this should be funded and pressure would exist to fund this through public loan. Although this reflects the purchase price over operation period of the Cemetery it inflates the purchase price still further with interest charges.

  There is no legal obligation on Parish and Town Councils to provide a Cemetery and increasingly the pressure exists for local councils to opt out. If this trend were to continue a crisis situation would undoubtedly result forcing Government intervention to either provide Cemetery land or force an increased usage of Crematoria.

THE MANAGEMENT AND PROVISION OF CEMETERY SERVICES

  There has been a recent trend to shorten the period of time over which a Grant of Right of Burial is issued. Historically these were for a period not exceeding 100 years but in some Cemeteries to as little as 30 years. The questions that arise for our authority are firstly, the moral question of digging in to 30 year old graves and the second, has regard to the loss of historic monuments.

  The other management issue has regard to the duplication and/or computerisation of cemetery records which given the age of most cemeteries can be a particularly costly matter to implement.

THE FUNDING AND ECONOMIC VIABILITY OF CEMETERIES, INCLUDING FUNDING FROM NATIONAL LOTTERY DISTRIBUTING BODIES

  In Wootton Bassett funding is currently received from burial fees and the Council Precept, with the precept forming the larger part of this. Funding becomes more acute as a Cemetery fills in view of the labour intensive nature of the work. This is particularly true of Closed Church Yards, which can prove a burden particularly to small Parish Councils.

  The issue is one about whether the maintenance of a Cemetery should be paid for by those who are deceased as part of the burial or whether the purpose of the Cemetery is to provide a place for mourners and should therefore be funded by those likely to visit the Cemetery.

Other matters which may arise in the course of questioning.

  Who is the Cemetery for, "the living or the dead"?

December 2000


 
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