Memorandum by the Corporation of London
The City of London Cemetery is one of the largest
public cemeteries in Europe. Together with the crematorium it
serves the needs of a large section of the population to the East
of the Capital. The cemetery covers 200 acres and has a substantial
infrastructure that includes over seven miles of roads, three
gothic chapels and a crescent shaped Catacomb overlooking landscaped
areas. The front entrance of the cemetery is Grade II listed.
It is also the largest open space in the London Borough of Newham
where it is included on the borough's list of sites of a significant
local conservation value. Approximately 500,000 visitors attend
the cemetery and crematorium each year.
The City of London Cemetery was opened as a
municipal facility in 1856. Since that time, the Corporation has
taken a leading role in the development and provision of services
including London's first municipal crematorium (1904), columbaria
(1930 and 1996), memorial gardens (1948), lawn graves (1953),
woodland burial (1998) and the use of pre-cast burial chamber
To date the cemetery and crematorium have received
498,000 burials and 224,000 cremations and the service handles
over 5,500 funerals each year. The service is operated on a self-financing
and not-for-profit basis. Although the service was first established
to meet the needs of the City of London, the cemetery and crematorium
are the main burial and cremation facilities for East London.
Fees and charges are set to reflect the cost of the service without
any subsidy and at no cost to the local authorities served (including
the London Boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham
Forest, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge). The cemetery and
crematorium fall under the remit of the Corporation of London's
Port and City of London Health and Social Services Committee and
are part of the Corporation's Environmental Services Department.
Cemeteries are a major part of the urban landscape
and invariably represent valuable open space of special interest
from historical, architectural and cultural perspectives. Cemeteries
have a significant role in urban areas where they are particularly
important for local communities where open space is at a premium.
There is a great deal of potential to develop the role of cemeteries
as open spaces. To promote the use of the City of London cemetery
as an open space the Corporation of London provides a tree trail
brochure, organises educational tours of the grounds (covering
ecology, geology and history) and receives school groups.
Municipal cemeteries cover significant areas
in most cities. In the capital, for example, they make-up 8 per
cent of all the public open space within central London (increasing
to 14 per cent for inner London) and 65 per cent of the land is
in conservation areas (Halcrow Fox, 1997). Obviously, cemeteries
have an important role in maintaining open, green and leafy urban
areas. Most cemeteries, particularly those in the centre of villages,
towns and cities, are well located and occupy land which could
have considerable market value. Despite these factors, cemeteries
are often left out of unitary development plans.
A consistent theme of writings on cemeteries
over the last 20 years suggests that they are increasingly recognised
as a significant part of our historic and architectural heritage
and that as such they have a great deal to offer society- they
are not simply places for burying the dead.
There have been numerous observations on the
deterioration of municipal cemeteries. A consistent theme of these
observations is the decline of cemetery heritage and maintenance
standards. A great deal of concern has been expressed about the
decline of the Victorian cemetery landscape in particular and
the establishment of numerous "friends of cemeteries"
groups seeking to conserve their historical, architectural and
ecological value is an indication of the interest being taken
by the media and public. Unfortunately, the landscapes of many
existing cemeteries are being adversely affected by the use of
areas that were not originally intended for burial use viz. paths,
verges and roads. This is likely to continue until the shortage
of burial space is properly addressed.
In addition to resolving the burial space problem,
there is a need to give consideration to the future preservation
and use of old gravestones where the owners are no longer alive
or able to take responsibility.
A major concern for burial authorities is the
condition of gravestones and the potential threat to life and
limb that they pose to visitors and staff. The problem has been
highlighted following several deaths in cemeteries over the last
few years as a result of unstable monuments. The Corporation has
embarked upon a major programme of inspection at a cost of £100,000
per annum to test the stability of monuments and, where necessary,
to make them safe. However, most authorities lack the resources
to carry out remedial work to ensure that memorials are made safe
in a manner that is not detrimental to the heritage value of cemeteries.
The resource problem is exacerbated by the following
1. A general unwillingness amongst local
authorities to set cemetery fees and charges to reflect actual
2. The cost of maintaining old graves;
3. The failure by burial authorities to put
aside income from the sale of exclusive rights of burial (often
sold for up to 100 years ahead) and to spend the limited income
on current expenditure (thereby making the problem worse for future
generations of local tax payers);
4. Cemeteries run by local authorities generally
lose out in the fight for limited resources because they have
to compete against other services, such as social services, refuse
collection, and parks and leisure services, that have a much higher
public and, therefore, political profile.
Local authorities with cemeteries and crematoria
invariably subsidise burial and not cremation. Indeed, cremation
income is often used to subsidise burial fees.
A number of Government Departments and Agencies
have initiatives which affect the operation of cemeteries and
The DETR is considering the making of regulations
under section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989
giving local authorities the power to charge for the provision
of memorials (although they have the power to provide memorials,
they have no power to charge a fee). The Audit Commission has
invited submissions as part of its proposals to review cemeteries
and crematoria (the last occasional paper by the Commission was
completed in 1989"Managing Cemeteries and Crematoria
in a Competitive Environment"), The Home Office is reviewing
"Death Certification" (following the Shipman case).
The Environment Agency is reviewing the guidance notes for the
control of emissions from crematoria (with potentially major implications
for the future operation and viability of crematoria). The Office
of Fair Trading is investigating cemeteries and crematoria; and
HM Treasury is drafting regulations to control the use of monies
paid in advance for the provision of funeral related services.
It can therefore be seen that there is a great
deal going on and the apparent lack of co-ordination between these
investigations and inquiries highlights the need to examine Government's
role as the policing authority over cemetery and crematoria providers
whether they are private or public. The absence of any independent
arrangements for the inspection and monitoring of the provision
and operation of cemeteries and crematoria should, it is suggested,
be a cause of concern for the Government. There is a need clearly
to determine and define who in Government is responsible for the
management and protection of cemeteries and crematoria.
Cemeteries are a Cinderella service that has
previously received little attention from central government.
Consideration should be given to the creation of a co-ordinating
mechanism to act as a government focal point for issues relating
to bereavement (including cemeteries, crematoria, burial and cremation
legislation, death registration, coroner duties and funeral services
The Corporation was a co-sponsor of the report
"Planning for Burial Space in LondonPolicies for sustainable
cemeteries in the new millennium" prepared by the London
Planning Advisory Committee and published in August 1997 and has
endorsed the nine burial policies set out in that report.
The City of London Cemetery has a limited amount
of space and there is no opportunity to extend the existing boundary.
Most other cemeteries in the United Kingdom are in the same position.
The case for the reuse of old, abandoned graves has been made
to the Home Office, subject to research into public attitudes
towards the proposal. Calls for action date back to 1993 but the
Home Office has yet to issue a consultation paper on the proposal.
There is no legal duty on local authorities
to provide new cemetery space, although they must maintain existing
cemeteries in good condition. Consideration should be given to
placing a duty upon local government to ensure that there is adequate
burial provision for the area they serve. Such a requirement would
help to focus thinking and action at the local level, which may
help to avoid a blase attitude toward the shortage of burial space
and its future provision.
The Corporation has always appointed a professionally
qualified officer to oversee the service and ensured that the
officer reports direct to the appropriate committee on all policy
matters. This has proved beneficial in achieving the high standards
set at the City of London Cemetery. The appointment of professionally
qualified officers would help to establish a minimum standard
of competence in the provision and management of cemeteries across
the UK. The Select Committee may wish to examine whether such
an appointment should be mandatory.
The management of local authority cemeteries
is governed by the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order 1977. It
is suggested that should be reviewed to reflect changes over the
last 23 years and service innovation such as the Charter for the
Bereaved, which provides an excellent opportunity to re-examine
the duties and responsibilities of burial and cremation authorities.