Memorandum by Harlington Parish Council
Harlington is a small village in Mid Bedfordshire
that has been attempting to provide additional burial and ashes
interment space since at least 1981.
All current burial space is now filled and only
limited ashes interment is possible. No land is available for
cemetery expansion within the village settlement and all agricultural
land around the village is Green Belt. Not all of this land meets
Environment Agency requirements and that which does is not purchasable
by agreement at less than housing development value despite none
of the land being accorded "white land" status in the
Local, District or County Plans.
Harlington recently failed in its attempt to
persuade a Planning Inspector to confirm the purchase of suitable
land compulsorily and is now negotiating with Bedfordshire County
Council to acquire 0.81Ha (two acres) of much less suitable County
owned land. Failure to acquire the site of first choice has resulted
in considerable cost to council taxpayers and a severe discouragement
to continuing with an alternative site, given that any alternative
site must have been previously rejected as unsuitable in some
This new cemetery will be a civil burial ground
allowing a mixture of traditional practice and the increasingly
popular "natural" burials either as "woodland"
(with small tree memorials) or "grassland" (with horizontal
wooden plaques) with interments in biodegradeable coffins. Multi-faith
and no-faith provision will be catered for by leaving an area
unconsecrated. Simple interment of ashes will be provided for
in areas not technically suited to graves.
The Parish Council believes that failure to
confirm the CPO may have resulted in part from differences in
the framework of rules that the Inspector worked to in arriving
at his decision and those issued to Parish Councils as guidance
in establishing new burial grounds.
Harlington Parish Council may well have been
the first burial authority to consider creating a new burial ground
under the waste disposal rules of the EA, although it may have
been overtaken by other councils able to acquire land more easily.
The Parish Council sees the difficulty in acquiring
technically suitable land at a reasonable price to be mainly due
to the competition with more lucrative uses, particularly housing,
even when these uses are disallowed by the existing planning rules.
This may be due to the perceived weakness in planning laws that
bias changes of Green Belt use in favour of, rather than against,
private development and permit continued pressure to be applied
to planning authorities to grant permission for "exceptions".
As long as landowners see that the future capital value of land
as "white land" far exceeds the income from its use,
they will be reluctant to sell at current market valuation.
Harlington Parish Council concludes that it
is both prudent and proper for villages to establish new cemeteries
both for conventional burials and interment of ashes, of at least
equivalent capacity to any existing cemetery, but that equalisation
is necessary between the guidance issued to Planning Authorities
and Inspectors, and those issued to villages, if attempts to conform
with all the stipulations laid down by the statutory authorities
are to be met without huge costs to local council tax payers.
1. WITNESS BACKGROUND
1.1 I am John Geoffrey Harfield and I reside
at 126 Goswell End Road, Harlington. I am a specialist in granulometry,
that is to say, the measurement and characterisation of finely
divided states of matter such as clays, powders and biological
cells. I have lived in Harlington since 1974 and have been a Parish
Councillor since 1984 without interruption. I was chairman of
Harlington Parish Council from 1989 to 1992. I sit on several
of the Parish Council's committees including the New Burial Ground
1.2 Most of the points raised here were
presented by me to a Public Inquiry to determine an Order made
on behalf of the Parish Council by Mid Bedfordshire District Council
to acquire land compulsorily for the construction of a badly needed
new burial ground.
2.1 Harlington is a compact village with
approximately 900 dwellings, the majority within 10 minutes walk
of the village centre and in 1996 had a population of 2,360 people.
The total population of Mid Bedfordshire District in the same
year was 116,100 so that Harlington represents 2.03 per cent of
the District. The village has a Local Council of 12 Parish Councillors
with a part time Clerk.
2.2 Harlington sits in Green Belt land which
to the east and south east of the village is designated an Area
of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Area of Great Landscape
Value (AGLV). There are only 23 such AONB areas in England and
Wales and this one is perhaps the smallest in the country. The
centre of the village has Conservation Area status with a number
of listed buildings. There are no significant parcels of land
remaining within the Village Development Limit, and the current
Draft Local Plan contains no relaxation of the limit.
2.3 Harlington Churchyard was closed by
Order of the Secretary of State in March 1902. In January 1901,
a new cemetery was opened, about 0.5 acre in area, divided equally
between a secular cemetery and a Church of England (St. Mary the
Virgin, Church Road) burial ground. When it was first established,
it lay on the village edge. Now, as a result of village growth,
the cemetery lies at the centre of the village and has no possibility
2.4 In November 1990, by judicious re-use
of allocated spaces, some four remaining burials were possible
in the cemetery, none at all in the Church's section. Possibly
24 ashes interments were still available. In 1998, there is now
no prospect whatever of burial within the current cemetery in
either section. Ashes interment space is limited to small additional
areas created around the edges of the cemetery. Even these will
shortly be exhausted.
3. NEW BURIAL
3.1 The population of Harlington in 1901
was 530 people. Currently, the population is 2,360. Therefore
the need for burials or ashes interment may be initially estimated
at four times that of 1901. When Harlington Model Village was
constructed after 1960, the population more than doubled in size
in 10 years. Those who came to live in Harlington at that time
were mainly in their thirties. It has been a characteristic of
this village that as people's housing needs change with time,
they have tended to move within Harlington rather than move out.
This may be partly explained by the village's green belt environment
and character, but may be influenced as well by the nature of
the house designs of the Model Village which lent themselves to
extension, allowing occupants to remain in situ as their families
3.2 Those people who were in their thirties
when they arrived during 1961 to 1971 are now in their sixties
in 1998. The number of deaths each year that the Parish Council
has been able to ascertain averages out over the last 12 years
to 17 per annum. There were 23 deaths in 1997. The rate for 1998
estimated from the number in the first few months of the year
3.3 Although it may be argued that not all
deaths lead to burials, some preferring cremation, in Harlington,
as in most village environments, older people tend to be more
conservative in their attitudes. At the moment, since there is
no possibility of anyone being buried in Harlington, naturally
the proportion of those choosing cremation in order to be interred
locally, has risen.
3.4 Parish Councils have no statutory duty
to provide a burial ground. Villagers, however expect them to
make provision, or have provision made available by a Local Authority.
All the inhabitants of a Civil Parish, whether churchgoers or
not, have a lawful right to be buried in their Parish Church's
Churchyard, even if it is full and regardless of their religion,
unless it has been properly closed by an Order in Council via
the Secretary of State. Normally when there is such a closure,
alternative burial provision is available locally. In the case
of Harlington, there is no District Cemetery or easily accessible
alternative except the cemeteries and churchyards of nearby villages,
or the use of large town burial grounds such as at Luton's Butterfield
Green Cemetery where public transport access is so awkward that
car travel is the only practical means for relatives to visit
graves or memorials.
3.5 Even for these alternatives, space is
becoming so short that villages and towns are starting to limit
access for burials from outside their own boundaries, mainly by
applying non-resident price differentials.
3.6 Harlington is not unique in Mid Bedfordshire
District in needing new burial space. Ampthill Town Council recently
reversed its policy not to provide new burial space, and has purchased
land for a new cemetery.
3.7 Arlesey Town Council extended their
cemetery by private agreement in 1988 and on 16th June 1994, Mid
Beds District Council Environmental and Leisure Services Committee
recommended to the Full Council that 2.21Ha (5.21 acres) of land
be acquired by compulsory purchase for additional burial space.
3.8 Because of Mid Bedfordshire's dispersed
population there is little support for a central District Cemetery.
In a policy document attached to a letter to all town and parish
Clerks dated December 1993 from the District Administrator, the
District Council recognises that administration and maintenance
of burial grounds are more appropriately performed at town/parish
level on the grounds, that most people prefer to be buried in
their own parish and in the current Draft District Plan, policy
DPS3 encourages the provision of cemeteries.
4.1 Harlington has been attempting to acquire
new land since at least 1981. Most efforts had fruitlessly centred
on the Village Green but the charitable ownership, the wide use
for village recreation and the smallness of the purchasable area
(no sensible councillor could expect the village to accept its
entire village green being converted to burial plots) relative
to the number of burials expected, finally led to the more sensible
consideration of farming land on the village boundary.
4.2 In Harlington, technically suitable
land which might be available in sufficient quantity is mostly
owned by landowners living outside the village. Applications to
change the status of the virtually all the Green Belt around Harlington
are currently being considered at a Public Inquiry into the Draft
Local Plan. Judged by the number of these applications and their
extent, this land seems to be viewed as a future "white land"
resource with a development value rather than agricultural value.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that applications to develop
this land for non-agricultural use in one way or another, are
almost continuous. In the past, the County Council has adopted
the same stance in relation to the agricultural land that it owned,
insisting that any sale would need to be at future development
price, at least 10 times the then agricultural valuation.
4.3 The point made above, in 4.2 regarding
technical suitability, comes about as the result of the setting
up of the National Rivers Authority now subsumed into the Environment
Agency, with powers to control waste disposal. Burial is deemed
by the EA to be a "specialised form of waste disposal".
It may well be that Harlington has become the first burial authority
to attempt to introduce a new burial ground under the new rules
that the EA were imposing. Larger burial authorities became alerted
to the implications of the new concerns following technical discussions
between Harlington Parish Council and Suffolk County Council (with
permeable soil geology in large areas)
4.4 It would not be an exaggeration to say
that many old burial grounds would not have been allowed under
current EA restrictions.
5.1 The dimensions of graves are established
by regulations issued by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
For adults these are 9' x 4' or 4sq.yds., (2.74m x 1.22m, 3.34m2).
The Ministry of Health Memorandum of 1926, suggests that one acre
of ground, 0.4ha, should serve a population of 1,000 people at
one burial per plot for an estimated 65 years when areas excluded
from burial are taken into account and 85 years if all ground
is used for interment. Assuming a simple rectangular cemetery
shape, paths round the edges and within may account for one-quarter
of the area.
5.2 On this basis, for a population of 2,360,
an area of 2 acres would be required to last 85 years. In 1926
considerable allowance had to be made for infant deaths (five
in 14 of all deaths) which, fortunately, is not now the case.
Historical data suggests that in Harlington 22 deaths out of 23
will be adults.
5.3 Guidance to parish councils is given
in the Parish Council Handbook, Charles Arnold-Baker, (CAB). The
text of this is updated at regular intervals and includes changes
in law or procedures introduced by HM Government either by statute
or regulation. CAB suggests that
Land for a new burial ground should
be sufficient for at least the loan period, which for a land purchase
may be considered as 60 years.
One acre at two burials per grave
should serve a population of 2,000 for 70 years (which is no doubt
the average of the 65 and 85 years quoted in the 1926 Memorandum).
Harlington Parish Council calculated
that an appropriate pro-rata total area would be 1.08ha or 2.66
5.4 Others working to the same guidelines
found similar proportions for their new burial areas. for example,
Stotfold Town Council extended their burial ground in 1988 to
give a total area of 2.82Ha (6.95 acres) for a population estimated
at 6,530 (6,886 at 1981 census and 6,434 at 1991 census).
5.5 Additional to the Secretary of State's
minimum area must be added any area for works required by the
Planning Authority. Planning requirements are more rigorous now
than in former times, both in hard and soft landscaping. Also,
the EA sets minimum distances to the spacing between any drainage
ditches (needed to take surface water away) and burials. Good
design can keep much of the former within the latter but overall,
the size of the total burial ground will be larger than the minimum
size stipulated in the 1926 Memorandum.
5.6 Parish councils have no choice in this
matter if they are to follow both the Secretary of State's guidelines
and conform to the restrictions/demands laid down with the consent
from the Planning Authority and conform to the stipulations of
the EA, which have statutory backing.
5.7 Harlington Parish Council concluded
that the Secretary of State's guidelines plus the Planning Authorities
landscaping and off-road parking requirements produced a realistic
total area of 0.836Ha (2.06 acres) to give a usable burial space
of 0.629Ha (1.55 acres), and that this would serve the existing
population of the village for approximately 100 years.
6. THE CRITERIA
6.1 Statutory powers for establishing burial
grounds provide no objective method for choosing sites. To maximise
the probability of a successful outcome, criteria are based on
the need to obtain the consents of the Planning Authority, the
land drainage authority, and the Highway Authority and are based
where possible on authoritative references. All the criteria essentially
fall under the following categories.
6.2 The land should be technically suitable.
Steeply sloping ground or riverside banks would be examples of
ground clearly technically unsuitable for a burial site. CAB recommends
that where possible, the soil should be "medium soil",
not sloping but well drained. Unfortunately, medium soil is not
easily found in Harlington, situated as this area of Bedfordshire
is, on heavy clay. Because of the heavy soil, level ground here
does not drain naturally but becomes waterlogged. Grass cover
on a reasonable slope allows surface rainwater to drain off naturally
to lower ground. Similar soils are found in other areas of the
6.3 In addition to the CAB meaning of "suitable",
new burial sites require the consent of the Environment Agency
as to their suitability. The EA's main concern is that "pollution"
does not reach aquifers or leach into runoff water that will enter
a watercourse, particularly one that feeds a river or reservoir
from which drinking water may be drawn. Unfortunately, the research
work underlying most of the EA's concerns originates from Australia
and looks at burial grounds purely as a form of waste disposal.
Human remains are seen as "corruption" where the original
ground before burial is seen as in some way "purer"
or "uncorrupted". It stems from this that the bio-burden
on the soil created from human interments is regarded as more
likely to pollute watercourses or aquifers than other forms of
6.4 In reality, this is illogical. The bioburden
on agricultural land supporting crop and small animal residues
is itself high. Rotting organic matter is decomposition whatever
its origins. Arable cropping often uses sewage sludge injection
into the soil as a way of adding nitrogen to the soil and disposing
of sludge organically. This produces a high bioburden in the soil
which also requires decomposition. What matters is that the distance
from the decomposition source to the nearest watercourse, or the
depth of soil between the bottom of graves and any aquifer exceeds
the decomposition time. This time will depend on the nature of
the soil, its water content, and its temperature.
6.5 In clay soil of the type found in and
around Harlington, the total decomposition time will vary from
a probable minimum of 10 years to a probable maximum of 25 years.
Using the arguments above, Harlington Parish Council was able
to persuade the EA to set reasonable distance limits between grave
spaces and watercourses or ditches, of 5 metres. Since Harlington
sits above a 50 metre thick layer of Oxford clay, the probability
of penetration to any aquifer below this is very low indeed.
6.6 Without that persuasion, the distance
and other limits suggested by the Australian work (in very different
soils and with a quite different pollution pattern) would have
led to such stringent limits being set, that no new burial ground
would have been practical in much of southern and eastern England.
Burials in sandy or permeable soils would be virtually ruled out.
7.1 Many people prefer to be cremated. However,
for anyone wishing to be interred within Harlington village there
is no alternative at the moment to cremation. Naturally, this
makes the numbers opting for cremation a higher percentage than
they might otherwise be. Nationally, more people choose to be
cremated than buried but this statistic is heavily weighted by
a large urban population for whom, as in Harlington, there is
7.2 Stevenage is an example of a smaller
conurbation. Stevenage cemetery interments for 1997 show 150 burials
and 230 ashes interments. This calculates to 61 per cent for the
latter, compared to the national figure of 70-73 per cent, in
keeping with the less urbanised nature of Stevenage compared to,
say, London or Manchester.
7.3 An important factor is the distance
from a crematorium. Urban areas are more likely to be close to
a crematorium. In a rural or semi-rural area, an assumption of
50 per cent cremation, 50 per cent burial would not unrealistic.
7.4 There is an underlying assumption in
most discussions that cremation is always preferable because it
is believed to be more environmentally acceptable, but this is
at variance with the facts. Crematoria currently operate under
very tight emission controls to ensure that they meet the standards
of the Environmental Protection Act, 1990.
7.5 Crematoria use large amounts of fossil
fuels, eg natural gas.
7.6 Pollutants of concern are carbon monoxide,
volatile organic carbon compounds, hydrogen chloride, and particulate
matter. Changes to some crematoria to meet the EPA standards and
those of the Secretary of State's guidance note Crematoria PG5/2(95)
have been reported as needing major building work. The Health
and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous
to Health Act 1994, require concern about the possible effects
on staff and others of mercury vapour from dental amalgams, and
hazards from exposure to the dust created by the ashing process.
Plastic implants, as well as the risks from pacemaker batteries,
also present some risk.
7.7 It has been said that each cremation
yields some 2.7Kg (6lb) of ash. Scattering this can lead to sterilisation
of the soil over which they are deposited, preventing memorial
garden plants from growing. Some crematoria, eg Milton Keynes
Crematorium, have had to ban the practice and require ashes to
be interred in plastic tubes. Harlington Parish Council has always
required ashes to be interred in urns and not scattered for this
7.8 Only the organic content is destroyed
by cremation. The ash contains all the minerals and elements,
potassium, sodium, chlorine, etc that are of concern to the Environment
Agency and of interest to those researching water pollution. Whether
a body is buried, or its ashes interred or scattered, these elements
still enter the ground. Minerals are more readily leached from
ash than from intact bones deep in the soil because fine particulates
have a high surface area to mass ratio. This is especially so
when the ash is on the surface and accessible to moisture.
7.9 Harlington Parish Council accepts that
the most environmentally satisfactory method is so-called "natural"
burial, whereby remains are interred in easily biodegradeable
coffins allowing rapid decomposition. These burials are often
accompanied by tree memorial planting or simple wooden plaques
that degrade at approximately the same rate as the human remains
themselves. Thus, a village burial site can become over time a
copsed and sympathetic site rather than the desolate open space
typical of urban areas. In a village setting, this has considerable
8. Harlington Parish Council failed to persuade
the DETR Inspector presiding at the Public Inquiry that a CPO
should be confirmed. The Inspector's full findings are given in
a report dated 29 July 1998 Government Office Ref: E1/J0215/3/2/03
Two main conclusions were:
(1) an area of two acres was unduly large;
(2) the Parish Council had insufficient funds
to carry out the work.
8.1 It is difficult to reconcile these with
the guidance to Parish Councils provided by the DETR itself via
CAB. The area applied for in the CPO was that calculated via the
official formula. Graves cannot be closer than the distance prescribed
nor smaller. The additional landscaping both hard and soft is
laid down by the Planning Authority. The safe water distances
are directions from the EA as to spacing between graves and water
courses or ditches. Parish Councils are not free agents in these
matters and must work within the constraints imposed.
8.2 Clearly, for the Inspector to come to
a different area conclusion implies that there is another set
of guidance notes or formulae that should be substituted for those
currently in CAB.
8.3 Likewise, the financial objection. The
cost to the Parish Council utilising the borrowing authority plus
its existing capital fund would have been similar to but less
than the cost of implementing Arlesey's burial ground at twice
the land area. The District Council had offered a 25 per cent
of final cost funding grant, to add to both of these. Given that
the total available money exceeded the final cost to Arlesey of
its new much larger cemetery, it is difficult to see the justification
for the objection. Again, the financing of the scheme was within
the guidance for large capital projects given in CAB, which are
based on statutory requirements under the 1979 LGA.
8.4 It is only as a result of considerable
pressure on the County Council, partly by its current financial
circumstances, and partly by the District Council acting on behalf
of the Parish Council that it is now considering releasing a portion
of its agricultural land for a cemetery. The site was one originally
rejected by the Parish Council on location, noise and pedestrian
safety grounds and there are still matters to be addressed before
purchase can be completed.
8.5 Harlington Parish Council believes that
a more co-ordinated policy between all the tiers of local government
is essential if land deemed suitable by the EA is to be identified
and made available. This includes a more uniform and transparent
set of guidelines or rules to be operated by Burial Authorities,
Planning Authorities, and Inspectors at appeal. The social dimension
to burial grounds should be taken into account. A better balance
needs to be struck between the needs of the community and the
expectation that developers have that they will inevitably profit
from Green Belt land if only they apply enough pressure and force
8.6 The Parish Council also believes that
the DETR plan for the South East for a huge expansion of house
building fuels this expectation and makes the purchase by agreement
of agricultural land by burial authorities at current market value