Memorandum by the Association of Burial
Authorities and The Phoenix Awards Scheme Organisation (CEM 19)
Existing cemeteries are not a fit part of civic
There should be a single, central co-ordinating
organisation for burial grounds.
Reuse of graves can enable cemeteries to be
a perpetually sustainable resource.
Realistic fees should be set nationally and
income "ring fenced" to maintain and improve the memorial
There should be a national code for safety provisions
Parish Councils should have devolved responsibility
and funds for cemetery management.
Any regulations should be enabling, not restrictive,
New building developments should include cemeteries
within their financial infrastructure.
Ownership of cemeteries should be vested in
a joint Local Authority/Community Committee.
Lottery funds could aid making safe and conserving;
improving cemetery landscapes for passive recreation; researching
reuse and multi-function methodology and designs.
Lessons should be learned from European Union
Burial and memorial grounds cover thousands
of acres of urban landscape, or their periphery, which are dedicated
to the dead. At the beginning of this millennium with its multi-racial,
cultural and religious beliefs, the latter both active and waning,
they have become an anachronism. Such vast areas for the dead
are lost to the living by virtue of being considered sacred places
when they are in reality lost, derelict spaces.
These spaces can be given back to the living.
Subsequent new burial and memorial grounds can be evolved to generate
wealth creation by the multiplicity of cross-industry occupations
involved, and enhance quality of life for future generations.
Increasing public awareness
The ageing population, the "third age"
is a significant market group with resources and concerns for
death care issues contributing towards:
focus on quality and value of funeral
demands for greater transparency
of costs and quality;
increasing interest/concern over
growth in pre-planning funerals;
re-ritualisation of funeral services.
These trends are also influenced by deaths among
the young from such as AIDS, drug abuse and cancer; and by child
and infant deaths which, by virtue of their relative infrequency,
have become a significant factor in recent years.
The Scope of Burial Grounds
Burial Grounds include churchyards and cemeteries
run by the Church of England, other Christian denominations such
as Catholics, Methodist, Quakers and Baptists, and by Jewish,
Muslim and other religious groups; and cemeteries run by Unitary,
District and Borough Councils, Parish Councils and Private Enterprises.
Also included are memorial sites and buildings for the deposit/commemoration
of cremated remains and gardens of remembrance which may be part
of a cemetery or churchyard, a crematorium estate or an independent
Burial Grounds occupy some 46,500 acres of land
in England. The land in older cemeteries has a high ecological
value with flora untreated by ploughing or herbicides. Many sites
provide a "green lung" as urbanisation has spread around
Churchyards are believed to be the largest single
owner of burial grounds with at least 16,500 acres among the same
number of C of E churches; 2,000 Parish Councils control some
10,000 acres; 69 Metropolitan and London Borough Councils, 275
District and Borough Councils and 14 Unitary Authorities another
10,000 acres over some 3,000 sites; privately owned cemeteries
control another 10,000 acres.
An unknown number of churchyards, older cemeteries
and large sections of cemeteries have been closed for further
burials, some of them for more than 150 years.
Burial Grounds are the foundation of the "death
care industry and services" sector. This sector comprises
funeral directors, clergy/officiants, cemeteries, churchyards,
crematoria, memorial masonry, floral tributes, coffin manufacture
and furnishing, transportation, as well as bereavement counselling
and support organisations and allied trades and professions. Burial
grounds are a critical resource for the death care industry and
for future society.
Resources for the care and maintenance of cemeteries
are generally inadequate. Numbers of old historical sites are
under the control of voluntary "Friends" organisations.
Many are neglected, dangerous places.
Modern cemeteries are designed with convenience
of administration the main priority, resulting in banal, unsafe,
Recent surveys have shown that 15 per cent of
cemeteries have experienced accidents due to dangerous memorials,
and that in general 10 per cent15 per cent of memorials
are in a dangerous condition.
DETR, AND OTHER
There is no central co-ordinating organisation
for burial grounds. The death care industry and services sector
is not recognised as a sector in its own right. The nearest DTI
Standard Industrial Classification is Funeral and Related Activities/Retail.
Cross-industry issues are much more complex and significant than
just the retail of funeral services. Burial and cremation matters
are controlled in parts by both the Home Office and the DETR,
and by others for specific affairs. The death taboo reinforces
the tendency for matters concerning this essential social service
to be avoided and neglected.
Issues are currently handled by (at least):
the DETR: covering much of the relevant
statutory law (mostly dating from the mid 19th century); responsible
for the finances of local cemetery authorities; the apex of the
planning system for new cemeteries or extensions; oversight of
management processes for local authorities;
the Home Office: regulating exhumations,
whether for forensic or other reasons;
the Health & Safety Executive:
the safety of operations in cemeteries both for workers and visitors
(eg the stability of memorials);
the General Synod of the Church of
England: whose faculty rules affect whom may be buried, the style
and content of consecrated parts of cemeteries and non-forensic
exhumations in them;
the Department of Trade and Industry:
responsibilities for the contractual, business and competition
aspects of the provision of burial facilities and services;
the Treasury: has investigated the
financial services aspects of pre-payment for burials;
the Department of Social Security:
financing of burials for low-income families and so-called "pauper"
the Department of Health: public
health implications of cemetery provision and operation;
the Office of National Statistics:
registration of deaths and burials.
Perhaps because of this diverse fragmentation,
and/or psychological factors relating to burial, there has been
no systematic review of provision for burial, nor any concerted
attempt to ensure that either the law, codes or standards of practice
or procedures of burial are suitable for the 21st century. Much
of what is now done or enforced is based on past practices and
needs, without regard to changes in the way of English life that
have greatly altered the circumstances, environmental and procedural
requirements for burials.
Psychological factors tend to inhibit proper
discussion of policy and a reluctance to question established
practices or debate rationally and dispassionately the proper
requirements for burial in modern society. It is often said "there
are no votes in cemeteries". Local authority cemetery committees
are regarded as unimportant, cemetery funding has a low priority
in budgets, there is general assumption that the public will not
support higher expenditure to make cemeteries a fit part of civic
infrastructure. As a consequence there is no sustained pressure
on the media, MPs or central agencies to deal regularly and thoroughly
with cemetery policy.
An example of how the lack of a central agency
affects cemeteries is the emerging problem of shortage of burial
space. Many cemetery authorities believe they will soon run out
of space for new burials. This problem can be met by construction
of new cemeteries or the reuse of existing cemeteries.
New construction brings planning problems since
sizeable plots in cities are seen as more valuable for property
development, and in the countryside they will occupy greenfield
sites. These are DETR issues.
New burials in used spaces means dealing with
the remains of previous burials, raising issues of exhumation,
public health and respect for human remains. These are principally
Home Office issues but are also for the Department of Health and
Church bodies. Thus the fundamental policy issue, which incorporates
a myriad of detailed points (new construction or reuse) is neither
the responsibility of a single agency nor within the ambit of
a single Minister of the Crown.
Similarly there is a very complex legal situation
on the liability for injury or damage resulting from dangerous
grave memorials. The danger may arise after several decades and
can be argued to be the responsibility of one or more of at least
three parties. There is no obvious central agency to propose or
implement a resolution of the legal difficulties to the benefit
of the victims.
Many graves will be disturbed to accommodate
road schemes, buildings, lightening conductors, sewer pipes etc.
Environmental Health implications are key elements in exhumation
procedures, but because not usually part of the Planning Department
an Environmental Health Officer (who is often also the representative
of the Health & Safety Executive) may first learn of an exhumation
request via the Home Office with the Section 25 exhumation process.
The EHO could be by-passed if an exhumation involves consecrated
ground under faculty jurisdiction.
Pet cemeteries fall under the DETR's waste policy
division, although some pet burials lie within the curtilage of
Bearing in mind that each year there are some
200,000 burials at a cost to families of more then £300 million
it is an important public issue that the roles of central agencies
should be clear; should lead to regular reviews and implementation
of suitable policies; and that there should be clear accountability
for this ever-present, major function of public bodies.
The ABA suggests that the DETR should
have a separate "disposal of the dead" section, headed
by a civil servant of a level commensurate with the responsibilities
and reporting to an identified Minister of the Department. All
Government responsibilities for burial (and cremation) should
be transferred to this section. It is anomalous that a department
whose principle function is public order and safety from crime
should regulate exhumations and any responsibility of the Home
Office for burial matters in particular, should be transferred.
With a single responsible agency there would
be a prospect of the making of coherent relevant policy for cemeteries,
and their treatment by everyone as important public places to
be held in proper regard as a significant part of the landscape.
Only then will our burial policy cease to be governed by the Victorians'
fear of a second epidemic of cholera!
Space in existing cemeteries
The potential for sustainable use of existing
cemeteries should be fully exploited with the implementation of
a reuse policy where burial space is limited. Where it is desirable
for the memorial landscape to be retained, existing memorials
and headstones which have been abandoned by their original owners
should be sold to new owners who would be required to restore
them (as is the practice in some EU countries). New names could
be inscribed on the reverse, or on an additional plaque. More
grave space can often be found in existing cemeteries by a careful
re-plotting of maps, paths and perimeters.
Should be located adjacent to catchment areas
to reduce travel, encourage local burial in the style of an "urban
village", and designed for use as passive leisure parks as
well as for disposal of the dead. Rather than vast cemeteries
for inhumations and interment of ashes, small intimate parks could
be created, in particular for ashes, within the urban environment.
All cemeteries should be securely walled. No areas should be consecrated,
rather individual graves could be hallowed as and when required.
A system of reuse can be achieved if, where possible, all graves
are dug to a depth for eight deposits, but only sold for two.
In this way a single grave may be resold three times without any
disturbance of the remains already interred. Woodland and "natural"
burial is not a viable application for cemeteries.
Reuse of graves
All new/future cemeteries should be designed
with sustainable reuse facilities incorporated. Vaults are widely
used to facilitate reuse in mainland Europe. Layouts, plantings
and structures would reflect the implications of reuse; visual
zoning would restrict views so that upheaval caused by reuse would
be out of sight. Memorials would also be designed for a limited
life span. In Germany for example, sculptured grave monuments
are removed after a grave lease period of 10-20 years and often
re-sited in the family garden. Rights of burial should be granted
for a limited period, say 10 years, which could be renewed on
a five or 10 year repurchase plan. If not renewed they could,
after following a prescribed protocol, be designated abandoned
and may be offered for reuse. Education of the public to the acceptance
of reuse would be aided by demonstration areas within the new
cemeteries. Surveys have in fact shown the public to be generally
in favour of reuse. (Reusing Old Gravesa report on popular
British attitudesby Douglas Davies and Alistair Shaw,
published by Shaw & Sons, 1995).
The disturbance, possible exhumation of remains
and spoil pollution are matters which would have to be addressed.
Reuse of graves has long been the norm throughout the EU and no
plans for the future of cemeteries in the UK should be considered
without a study of practices in mainland Europe.
Planning schemes for future towns and cities
should all include facilities for disposal of the dead. This would
cover such issues as:
town and country planning;
horticulture and arboriculture;
funerary architecture and memorials;
street and park furniture;
A clear distinction must be drawn between large,
urban, small, and countryside cemeteries. In smaller and countryside
cemeteries it is quite normal for the provision of services to
be divided between two types of operatorsthose who lay
out and maintain the cemeteriesand those who carry out
the interments. Many, though not all, cemeteries are provided
and controlled by local authorities. Grave digging and burials
in some rural cemeteries, and interments and memorial erections
in almost all cemeteries are carried out by commercial businesses
which vary in size, with some large firms operating throughout
the country, while many act in a small area and may do most of
their business in one cemetery or crematorium.
Problems in the provision of cemetery services
arise from two sources:
1. The low profile and priority given in local
government to cemetery matters leads to constraints on expenditure
so that many cemeteriesespecially in the parts no longer
having new burialscannot be given adequate maintenance
to keep them either in a safe satisfactory condition for public
access or in a decent state as a piece of public property. The
problem is exacerbated by the split in funding of cemeteries between
public expenditure from an authority's budget and charges to individuals
for permitting burials (grave rights) or the erection of memorials
(memorial rights and permits) and sometimes grave gardening and
maintenance. The general belief that funerals are expensive coupled
with the fact that fees for cremations, burials and memorials
are collected via, and as part of the total bill of the undertaker
or mason, means that there is reluctance to levy fees at a proper
level, or to review and raise them consistently, even in line
with inflation rates. This reluctance is reinforced by the lack
of "ring fencing" of cemetery income which can be diverted
to other local authority projects rather than to improvements
or maintenance of the cemetery.
2. The other major problem arises from the fact
that private businesses are carrying out operations, including
in particular the construction of memorials, and often in small
cemeteries the digging of graves, which have implications for
the safety of the cemeteryboth immediately and in the long
termwhereas the overall responsibility for safety is upon
the owner and controller of the cemetery. In theory this problem
can be resolved by the cemetery authority having a complete set
of regulations which would ensure safety, but in practice this
demands regular inspections of work in progress and regular checks
of the state of the cemetery. Without additional resources being
allocated to cemetery management it is not possible for all cemetery
authorities to carry out that amount of supervision, inspection
and checking which will guarantee the observance of safety requirements.
In the end the only effective sanction to prevent unsafe practices
is for the authority to ban a business from carrying out work
in its cemetery. But such a sanction will never be easy to invoke
because of the difficulties of proving that the business has been
carrying out unsafe operations; because the ban denies the public
a full choice of undertakers and masons; and may in some areas
create a monopoly.
Nonetheless the divided responsibility for safe
work, and the funding problems, need to be tackled if, in the
21st century, cemeteries are to be managed and provided that are
safe, adequate and satisfactory.
The ABA suggests that:
1. The financial issues can be resolved if
burial matters are addressed nationally through a single central
agency which can ensure that the public and cemetery authorities
alike begin to appreciate the policy issues and requirements that
must be dealt with for acceptable cemetery provision in the future.
There is no need to move away from the public/private expenditure
split but both elements must be brought to, and kept at a suitable,
2. There should be a national code (with
a clear legal status) covering all the necessary safety provisions
for cemeteries: national standards should be prescribed (as for
example they are in the German Federal Republic) to ensure the
continuing stability and safety of monumental stones. Institutions
of higher education should be encouraged to carry out research
into cemetery matters and contemplate offering courses leading
to qualification that would set and stimulate good national practices.
3. With regard to the thousands of countryside
cemeteries, responsibility and funding should be devolved to the
Parish Councils that are best positioned to serve the needs of
their community but inhibited by the working of local government
4. Any regulation should be enabling, not
restricting; adjustable to regional variations of custom, climate
and ground conditions, and able to adapt to suit changing attitudes
and social developments in the future.
The economic viability of cemeteries is suffering
from hidden subsidies delivered over many years by local authorities
pursuing a policy aimed to provide a welfare service "free"
from cradle to grave. This has resulted in a starving of funds
and the creation of mean spirited cemeteries suffering neglect
and dilapidation. Individuals prepared to contribute memorial
garden features or handsome sculptures are prevented by a policy
to exclude any ostentatious display. Consider the contrast with
the Victorian cemeteries of which we are so proud. We cannot name
a cemetery built in the last century in Britain which can measure
anywhere near the achievements of the Victorian necropolises.
Well designed and laid out cemeteries would be able to command
realistic fees and if operated on a sustainable reuse principle,
could continue to be viable into the foreseeable future.
The developers of community housing and urban
environments of all kinds, should be required to include cemetery
and memorial parks within the planning for the projects, and they
should be designed to be operated on realistic, profitable lines.
Cemeteries should be managed and held in perpetuity
by a form of Guardian Ownership by a community management committee
comprising two thirds membership by the Local Authority and one
third membership by members of the local community including representation
from ethnic minorities. (Example: the Glasgow Necropolis). Funding
would be from realistic fees and possible National Lottery contributions.
Profits would be ploughed back in the form of amenity features,
sculptures and artworks. (Example: Dutch Co-operatives). There
would not be religious buildings but multi-purpose structures
available for ceremony and ritual including memorial services,
namings and weddings.
National Lottery Funding may also usefully be
directed into areas of research into such issues as the design
and planning of new cemeteries for reuse and passive recreation,
and possible pollution from burial and reuse.
European Union homogenisation is affecting cemeteries
as in other sectors. There is for example, discussion regarding
a German safety directive requiring all memorials to be tested
to withstand a force of 500 Newtons every year; a requirement
to make embalming of bodies compulsory which could add to toxic
deposits; defining memorial erection as a trade skill distinct
from letter-cutting; health and safety regulations for the use
of lifting equipment for memorials; the depth and methods of grave
An appreciation of the ABA recommendations for
reuse, safe design, low maintenance and attractive, secure, multi-purpose
amenity landscaping cannot be gained without looking at cemetery
operations in continental Europe, in particular France, Holland
and Germany, and also Switzerland and Japan. The ABA has fraternal
links with cemetery operators throughout the world, and especially
Europe, and would be happy to arrange facility inspection visits.
The Executive of the Association of Burial Authorities
is desirous of accepting an offer to submit oral evidence in support
of this memorandum.