Memorandum by Kirklees Metropolitan Council
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. THE 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.
3. THE CONDITION
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.
4. ROLES AND
THE DETR AND
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
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.
5. LONG TERM
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).
6. THE MANAGEMENT
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
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.
7. THE FUNDING
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