Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eighth Report


Cemetery Provision
(a)We believe that it is essential that Government address immediately the lack of basic information on the number, condition and operational viability of the country's cemeteries. We welcome the Minister's commitment to the collation of such information, and we recommend that the necessary research be set in train by the end of this year (paragraph 12).
The Value of Cemeteries
The Needs of the Bereaved
(b)Although the desire to bury the dead is now, and has been for some time, a minority choice, we are firmly of the opinion that this preference should be respected (paragraph 14).
(c)Local authorities will, we suggest, wish to ensure the widest possible access to the option of burial. This means that ways have to be found to ensure that local, accessible burial space is provided. Local authorities should address this need in their Development Plans (paragraph 16).
(d)We commend those cemetery managers who are looking to improve the service they offer to the bereaved and encourage all those with responsibility for cemeteries to consider further how they can follow their example. This should include ensuring that the public has access to good, impartial advice about the options available to them (paragraph 19).
Cultural Value
(e)There is an increasing public desire for greater memorialisation of the dead which cemeteries, properly maintained and managed, can play an essential role in fulfilling (paragraph 20).
(f)We recommend that local authorities pay more attention to the cultural significance of their cemeteries (paragraph 21).
Historical, Environmental and Amenity Value
(g)Cemetery managers should evaluate the biodiversity potential of their cemeteries, and where appropriate, and in consultation with local Wildlife Trusts and other interested parties, manage the cemetery accordingly (paragraph 29).
(h)Management of a cemetery for nature conservation purposes must not become an excuse for neglect (paragraph 30).
(i)We recommend that the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions consider ways in which the Living Churchyard and Cemetery Project can be enabled to continue and extend its good work in regenerating cemeteries and other burial grounds (paragraph 31).
(j)English Heritage and English Nature should work together to formulate special assessment procedures for cemeteries which encourage cooperation between those seeking to protect the built and natural heritage value which they represent. Where appropriate, these should be used to draw up comprehensive management plans for cemeteries which pull together the various competing demands on the cemetery. In all cases, the primary purpose of the cemetery, as a place for the service of the bereaved, must be paramount, and historical, educational and amenity uses conducted with all due sensitivity (paragraph 33).
Cemeteries and the Urban Renaissance
(k)We believe that cemeteries remain of great importance to our towns and cities, and have the potential to make a significant contribution to the aims of the Urban White Paper. The Minister for Local Government did not seem particularly keen to impress upon us that her Department was taking the issues surrounding cemeteries seriously as part of the Government's vision of an urban renaissance. The DETR should make clear its recognition that the problems facing cemeteries should be addressed, and their contribution appreciated, when developing urban policy (paragraph 40).
(l)We will be looking for the DETR to demonstrate in practice the welcome acknowledgement by the Minister at a later stage of the inquiry that cemeteries require special consideration as a particular kind of landscape (paragraph 41).
Cemeteries in Decline
The condition of cemeteries
(m)Unsafe, littered, vandalised, unkempt, [many] cemeteries shame all society in their lack of respect for the dead and the bereaved (paragraph 42).
Reasons for decline
(n)It is clear that many local authorities need to devote substantially more resources to cemeteries if they are to address seriously the problems which they face (paragraph 45).
(o)Our society still accords great importance to issues relating to the disposal of the dead. The evidence submitted to this inquiry suggests that this fact has not been sufficiently recognised at senior strategic and executive levels within local authorities. We encourage all those concerned with the provision of this essential local government service to reexamine their attitude towards it. We particularly encourage the Local Government Association to become actively involved in efforts to raise the profile and standing of cemetery services within local government, and to examine what else it might do by way of developing and encouraging good practice in the provision of this service by its member authorities (paragraph 47).
(p)The Government's 'hands-off' approach to cemetery provision has given local authorities carte blanche to treat cemeteries as the lowest of low priorities. The Home Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions cannot be allowed to abdicate responsibility for ensuring that this service is managed in an effective manner, and the most basic standards met (paragraph 48).
(q)We welcome the Home Office Minister's acknowledgement of the Government's leadership role, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of central Government's new attitude to cemetery provision (paragraph 49).
Other causes for concern
Running out of space for burial
(r)Research on the provision of burial space nationwide is urgently required. The research on cemeteries which we have above recommended take place should address this requirement (paragraph 55).
Legislation: closed churchyards
(s)We are surprised and disappointed at [the judgement regarding repair of tombstones at St Mary's, Little Ilford,] which only serves to reinforce our conclusion that a review of the legislation pertaining to closed churchyards is urgently required (paragraph 62).
Halting decline: existing solutions
Funding for maintenance
(t)Under current arrangements, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain cemeteries in a fashion fit and proper for the needs of the bereaved, and many are being left to fall into decay and neglect. The ever-increasing cost of the perpetual maintenance of graves risks raising the cost of burial to an unacceptable level. Crematoria cannot be expected to continue to subsidise cemeteries. A way must therefore be found for cemeteries to maintain a long-term source of income (paragraph 67).
Funding for restoration
(u)We believe that a substantial opportunity for the renovation of cemeteries is currently being missed. We therefore recommend that both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the New Opportunities Fund and its 'Award Partners' be more proactive in ensuring that appropriate applications come forward (paragraph 71).
(v)We welcome the suggestion by the Heritage Lottery Fund that it place an article in its newsletter explaining what it has done for cemeteries. We look forward to reading this article. We trust that the New Opportunities Fund will in due course be in a position to undertake a similar exercise (paragraph 72).
(w)We strongly encourage all those concerned with the condition of their local cemetery - whether Friends groups, cemetery managers, or concerned members of the public - to investigate the possibility of applying for funding from appropriate National Lottery distributing bodies. If they are to be given the best chance of success, however, it is very important that the application processes for funding from both NOF and HLF be as easy as possible for voluntary groups to follow (paragraph 73).
(x)We recommend that the Secretary of State direct the New Opportunities Fund to make cemeteries a specific funding commitment (paragraph 74).
Local authority management of cemeteries
(y)We encourage those local authorities who have not already done so to consider whether their cemetery services might best be managed within a 'Bereavement Services' or similar department (paragraph 76).
(z)We welcome the intention of the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration to produce a manual of good practice for cemetery and crematorium managers, and we recommend that the DETR support this project (paragraph 78).
(aa)We recommend that all local authorities conduct their Best Value reviews of cemetery services with reference to IBCA's Charter for the Bereaved; and that they aim to meet the standards of service set out in that document. Future Best Value Performance Plans should assess performance against these standards (paragraph 84).
(bb)We recommend that the Audit Commission publish in due course a 'Lessons from Inspection' document on cemetery provision (paragraph 85).
Friends groups
(cc)We strongly encourage anyone concerned about their local cemetery to investigate the possibility of setting up a 'Friends' or similar group. Good practice on the formation of Friends groups should be disseminated both through conservation bodies, such as English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Civic Trust, the National Federation of Cemetery Friends, and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and through those concerned with cemetery management, such as the Institute for Burial and Cremation Administration and the Confederation of Burial Authorities (paragraph 86).
(dd)We encourage local authorities to work constructively with local 'Friends' and similar groups, but stress that in doing so they should not seek to abdicate their own responsibility for the proper maintenance of cemeteries, both working and closed (paragraph 87).
English Heritage
(ee)English Heritage must reconsider its criteria for registering cemeteries, and for listing their structures, if statutory listing is adequately to reflect their historic importance (paragraph 91).
(ff)We welcome English Heritage's intention to supplement their national telephone information service by making all their statutory lists available on the Internet, and we recommend that this project be completed as soon as possible (paragraph 92).
(gg)We draw the attention of local authorities to English Heritage's work on the historic interest of cemeteries, and strongly encourage those who have not already done so to consider whether cemeteries for which they are responsible should be protected through designation as a 'Conservation Area'. To assist in this process, English Heritage's guidance note on the conservation of historic cemeteries should address all historic cemeteries, not just those of national significance. We also recommend that EH actively seek the opportunity to support the restoration of a historic cemetery as a pilot project which can serve as an example for others wishing to undertake similar work (paragraph 95).
(hh)We are concerned that the proper recognition and preservation not only of parks and cemeteries, but also of many other vital elements of the historic environment, may be being put at risk by the lack of the necessary resources. We urge the Government to study Power of Place carefully, and to take the necessary action, including allocation of resources, to ensure that England's historic environment is properly protected for the benefit of current and future generations (paragraph 96).
(ii)We welcome the Home Office Minister's recognition of the problem of the lack of properly trained staff for cemeteries, and we look forward to speedy Government action to remedy the situation. One of the first tasks of the Government's new advisory group should be to develop guidelines on the basic training needed for cemetery managers, drawing on the work already done by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration, and to disseminate these guidelines across all burial authorities, particularly the smaller ones. It should also carry out further research into where the training deficit is most serious, and recommend appropriate policies for addressing the problem. In particular, the advisory committee should consider whether it is necessary to specify minimum levels of training or qualifications for cemetery managers (paragraph 98).
Cemetery Inspection
(jj)We look forward to the speedy establishment of the Government's advisory group, which should at the earliest possible opportunity communicate to all burial authorities in the country its existence and expertise and the help it is able to offer. We recommend that it take on immediately the tasks of dissemination of good practice, setting of standards and policy development which we have identified for an inspectorate, including particularly the development and dissemination of guidelines on basic training. The advisory committee should urgently investigate the case for its replacement by a standing inspectorate, and the possible scope and size of such an inspectorate (paragraph 105).
Monument Safety
(kk)Whilst we recognise the importance of ensuring that unsafe memorials do not cause any further deaths or serious injuries, we believe that the Health and Safety Executive could act with greater sensitivity towards the historical and cultural significance of such memorials. We recommend that HSE have urgent discussions with English Heritage regarding memorial safety, and that it ensure that its inspectors are fully aware of the heritage and amenity value of cemeteries when taking decisions about enforcement action (paragraph 110).
(ll)The Government should make available specified funds for selected programmes of renovation of unsafe memorials. Access to these funds should be conditional on the development of detailed management plans for the sites in question (paragraph 112).
Halting decline: change requiring legislative enactment
Reuse of graves
(mm)We recommend that, wherever possible, comprehensive management plans be drawn up for individual cemeteries. The Government's new advisory group should produce and disseminate guidelines for cemetery managers on how this should be done (paragraph 126).
(nn) If the public are to continue to have access to affordable, accessible burial in cemeteries fit for the needs of the bereaved, there appears to be no alternative to grave reuse. The Government's consultation paper on the reuse of graves - which we understand is now also to include a number of other matters relating to cemetery provision - should therefore be issued as soon as possible. If the Home Office requires further research before commencing this already long-delayed consultation, it should specify exactly what is required and ensure that it is carried out speedily, with due regard for the consequences of further delaying a resolution of this matter. For the reasons stated above, and assuming that the necessary safeguards are included, we are ourselves of the opinion that legislation should be introduced allowing burial to take place in reused graves (paragraph 127).
Review of legislation
(oo)A complete review of the law relating to burial and cemetery management, including churchyards, is required. We recommend that the Government's new advisory group carry out this review and make recommendations for appropriate rationalisation and improvement of the law relating to the disposal of the dead. Once this is complete, it is imperative that legislative time be found for the necessary changes, and we shall be following progress in this regard closely (paragraph 128).

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