Memorandum by Harrogate Borough Council
The two main areas that I wish to focus on in
this document are:
the condition of existing cemeteries;
the roles and responsibilities of
the DETR, and other Government Departments and agencies, in the
management and protection of cemeteries and public policy on cemeteries
Why do we feel we are in a position to make comment
and contribute to your enquiry?
There are several reasons for this and I have
listed these below:
We are currently responsible for
managing 10 cemeteries, 11 closed churchyards and one crematorium;
We have had written Strategies for
the management of this service since 1994;
We have always had a policy of maintaining
high standards throughout these services and this has been recognised
by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration (IBCA)
who have designated us as one of only four training Crematoria
in the Country;
In July 2000 there was a tragic accident
in one of our cemeteries which resulted in the death of a child
and the legacy of this has changed the way we manage and maintain
our cemeteries and closed churchyards in such a way that I feel
it will be of benefit to yourselves to hear of our current situation
when looking at these issues; and,
We have undertaken a Best Value review
of this service and some of the issues that were identified did
not fit in with current government thinking and certainly did
not address some of the issues that we have had to deal with since
All the cemeteries and closed churchyards within
the Harrogate District are regularly maintained. The grass is
mown fortnightly, shrub and rose beds are well tendered, the paths
are regularly swept etc. The buildings are all on a regular maintenance
regime and are painted in colours in keeping with their surroundings.
Consequently the cemeteries and closed churchyards are highly
maintained, pleasant areas to visit irrespective of whether or
not you are a relative visiting a grave, or someone just visiting
in search of historical information etc.
In addition we hold meetings with local interested
parties such as Monumental Masons, Funeral Directors and the local
Health Trust. We have also as part of our Best Value review undertaken
considerable consultation with the local community. These have
all confirmed that in the eyes of the users it is considered that
we maintain and deliver the service to a high standard. We believe
and strive to ensure that the standard is maintained and improved
upon and reflects the needs of the users.
As part of this process in 1998 we undertook
a detailed financial analysis and introduced a financial plan
with the aim of maintaining the high standard of service whilst
working towards a break-even costing.
In October 1999 as part of our continuing endeavour
to provide a high standard of service a report was considered
by the Leisure and Amenity Services Committee which looked at
the increasing problem of memorial safety and how this matter
could be tackled.
The report considered Memorial Management and
Safety in the Cemeteries and looked at the issues of risk; consultation;
an ombudsman's report that had been published in May 1999 which
had found against another Council concerned as a result of lack
of consultation; what consultation we proposed to undertake; methodology
for undertaking the survey; the legal position; financial implications
and a five year programme for undertaking the survey work which
had been put together following a Risk Assessment. The Risk Assessment
was undertaken in order to identify areas where prioritisation
should lie, and the decision was taken to utilise the following
framework to determine the priorities.
how frequently the cemetery or part
of the cemetery is visited/used;
the age and type of memorials in
the approximate burial rate and usage
of the cemetery;
the size of the cemetery (number
of memorials) in ratio to the preceding factors;
the community access to the cemeteries,
The Ombudsman's report clearly highlighted the
sensitive nature of dealing with memorials that were unsafe and
resulted in costs against the Council concerned. Consequently,
this was something that Harrogate Borough Council had to take
into account when developing the policy and procedures for dealing
with this issue.
Work commenced in the first Cemetery on the
programme in January 2000, and it soon became apparent that the
problem was far more reaching than first thought and also was
going to prove to be a lot more costly.
This work only started to address the immediate
issues of memorial safety within the legal confines we were having
to work with. It did not look at the long term issues in relation
to the types of memorials permitted, the management of monumental
masons and how memorials were to be constructed in the future.
This I will comment on later.
On 7 July 2000 a large memorial approx 2 metres
high toppled onto a six year old boy who was playing in the cemetery.
Unfortunately this young boy was tragically killed by the memorial.
This was a 99 year old, traditional type memorial, of single stone
construction set on a stone base similar to those found in most
cemeteries and closed churchyards throughout the Country.
& SAFETY EXECUTIVE
Discussion took place with the HSE who were
only interested in ensuring that the cemeteries and closed churchyards
that we were responsible for were made as safe as possible as
quickly as possible. They were not interested in:
the issues raised in the Local Ombudsman's
the ramifications of taking drastic
action and laying down memorials that were considered unsafe;
public opinion when the cemeteries
of Harrogate were effectively destroyed;
who the memorials belonged to; and
what the cemeteries of other authorities
were like, and what actions they were taking to rectify the situation.
Within the Harrogate District it has been established
that there are approximately:
9,850 memorials that are up to one
metre in height;
5,500 memorials that are between
one metre and two metres; and
1,000 memorials that are over two
metres in height.
There are many other memorials but these are
predominately kerb types of only a few centimetres in height and
are not considered to be of any major concern.
Out of these our initial work has shown that
30 per cent (2,955) of the memorials
up to one metre in height;
70 per cent (3,850) of the memorials
between one metre and two metres; and
20 per cent (200) memorials that
are over two metres in height
After detailed discussions with the HSE it was
clear that the way we had originally planned to undertake the
work was considered by them to be unsatisfactory and they were
looking for us to carry out a detailed survey of all the memorials
taking whatever action was required to make them safe. Consequently
a new revised two year programme was developed that dealt with
the older larger type memorials within the first nine months and
the remainder of the newer type in the following 15 months. This
was backed up with an "Improvement Notice" issued by
the HSE clarifying what we had to do and the timescales.
The result of this was that we had to embark
on the process of inspecting all memorials and laying down any
that were considered to be unsafe. The estimated costs for undertaking
this work over the two year period is £287,670. Obviously
sourcing the funding for this work has proved to be very difficult
for an Authority with very limited resources and other service
areas will suffer as a result.
The bigger issue is "What happens next".
As you can imagine if such large numbers of memorials are being
laid down then the whole character of the cemeteries in Harrogate
are being drastically changed. Once all the memorials have been
inspected and those that are unsafe laid down, there are several
options available to the Authority to take as listed below:
(a) Leave the memorials as and where they
are. Unfortunately, if this option were pursued then even though
all the memorials have been carefully lowered and laid on timber
putlogs to protect them it would look as though they had been
pushed over and consequently they look very unsightly. In addition
because they are all laying on the surface, many with their bases
still attached, it will not be possible to maintain the grass
around them to the same standards and consequently the overall
appearance of the cemeteries will deteriorate considerably. In
addition there may be other Health and Safety issues that would
arise with them just lying on the surface. The benefit of this
approach is that no further expenditure would be required.
(b) Alternatively the memorials could be
buried in the grave space, or removed from site. It is estimated
that these options would cost in the region of £250,000 to
£500,000 and detailed estimates are currently being put together
to establish this. This would be the most devastating of the options,
particularly when considering the numbers of memorials involved
(c) A third option is to have all the bases
removed from the memorials and have the stones laid flush into
the ground. The benefits of this are that the cemetery is easily
maintainable and the memorials and hence the inscriptions along
with some of the historical values are maintained. The problem
with this option is the potential cost and it is estimated that
for this work to be undertaken may cost in excess of £500,000.
Again detailed estimates are being sourced for this work to clarify
(d) The last option would be to re-erect
the memorials. This is by far the most desirable of the options
as it restores the cemeteries. The historical and cultural significance
is fully maintained and the ambience and attractive nature of
the cemetery is restored to an area of reflection. The difficulty
for Harrogate Borough Council in trying to achieve this would
be that it would cost in the region of £1,000,000 to carry
out this work.
Clearly there is not the funding for options
(b) to (d) to be undertaken within the current budgets and consequently
without financial help then the actions most likely to be pursued
will be along the lines of that which enables the cemeteries to
be regularly maintained and kept in a safe condition in the most
cost effective way. Consequently, we anticipate that either option
(a) will be pursued or (b) if further funding could be found.
It may be necessary to source this funding through a reduction
in the overall service provision. Whilst it is accepted that this
will remove for ever many of the features of these areas and destroy
the historical and cultural significance of them this authority
will have little choice as we do not have the necessary funding
available to undertake the more expensive yet desirable options
Technically the memorials are the responsibility
of the owners who are members of the public and not the local
authority. However, experience has shown that it is often extremely
very difficult to trace the owners if at all possible, and consequently
the Authority has responsibility as land owner to ensure that
the area is safe for anyone using the cemetery.
Having said this there is little legislative
guidance available to assist local authorities in establishing
who is responsible for what and for how long. When considering
memorials the deeds are issued to the individual family member
so technically they are responsible for ensuring that the memorial
is maintained and remains in a safe condition. However, that same
memorial is fixed on land owned by others (the Local Authority)
and consequently under the Workplace (Health and Safety) Regulation
1992, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is safe for all
the staff who work there. However, exactly what all that means
in legal terms is unclear and consequently local authorities are
placed in a difficult position in trying to resolve issues relating
to memorials on their land.
Whilst referring to legislation I would also
like to raise the issue of responsibilities for maintenance of
closed churchyards. The legislation in this area is also very
vague and does not make it clear who is responsible for maintaining
what. It is further complicated by the fact that the Local Authority
often has to take responsibility for maintaining certain areas
which have been closed for burials in which many memorials have
been erected on land owned by a third party (the church diocese).
In these instances who is responsible for maintaining these memorials?
Consequently, it would assist Local Authorities
and any others who have responsibility for managing cemeteries
and closed churchyards if this area could be made clear through
In Summary the main points that were agreed
with the HSE were:
(a) The new risk assessment was a reasonable
analysis and that the works should be undertaken on that basis.
(b) From the 1st November 2000 HBC would
have a member of staff in post to carry out the function of memorial
surveys. Their initial task would be to make safe all the memorials
between one metre and two metres in height and have this work
completed by the end of July (nine months). They would be supported
by other Bereavement Services staff if time was available.
(c) HBC would employ external consultants
to survey the memorials over two metres in height and this work
would be undertaken in parallel to HBC's staff carrying out the
survey to the smaller memorials.
(d) HSE would consult the Ombudsman regarding
the new guidelines for memorial management and safety and the
issue of consultation which clouded the issue.
(e) If HBC wrote separately and specifically
to the HSE, they would through their policy section liaise with
the Local Government Association and try to persuade them to become
involved in advising all 450 authorities on cemetery safety and
contribute to national guidelines.
Points (a) to (c) have all been undertaken by
Harrogate Borough Council and work is continuing in accordance
with the programme. With regards to points (d) and (e) no feedback
has yet been received from the HSE with regards to these matters
and consequently no assistance has been forthcoming.
This highlights a fundamental difficulty that
we as an Authority have been having to grapple with. We are all
aware that there was a serious incident that resulted in the tragic
death of a child. Our record of management and our maintenance
standards for the cemeteries clearly show that we see these areas
as highly important and maintain them at a standard one would
expect for areas such as these. We had recognised that there was
an issue to address with regards to memorial safety and had even
raised this issue with the HSE two years earlier. We had even
put in place a programme for undertaking a survey of all the memorials
in an environment where there was little or no National guidance
to assist us. I feel this clearly shows our commitment to this
part of the service.
The biggest difficulty has been trying to get
assistance form government agencies particularly the HSE.
As mentioned above discussions were held with
the HSE regarding this matter. We were advised that a draft document
had been put together relating to the matter of memorial safety
and that it may be possible to forward a copy. Unfortunately no
copy was provided and we had to develop our own system. Then after
the accident little guidance was forthcoming from the HSE. Again
we were very much left to our own devices with regards to how
we resolve the issue. Even now when issues are raised we get advised
that it is not up to the HSE to tell us how to do it, it is up
to us to determine that. I had always been under the impression
that the HSE was an organisation that worked with others to improve
on Health and Safety however it has become clear that they operate
only as a regulatory body which in instances like this is no benefit
Since the accident there has still not been
any circular sent to Local Authorities by the HSE notifying them
of the potential risks and the need to undertake memorial surveys
in their cemeteries. Meetings with colleagues in other authorities
has shown that many have not been aware of the incident at Harrogate
and of the need to undertake such surveys. This matter could have
been driven through by the HSE and the Local Government Association
in partnership to ensure that steps were taken to remove the dangers
within cemeteries across the Country. Unfortunately this has not
happened and it is only a matter of time before another accident
occurs. As mentioned above the HSE did agree to undertake some
liaison with other agencies but to date we have had no feedback
on any progress made.
Consequently, we do feel that there is a great
need for Government Agencies to work together particularly in
a sensitive area such as burial and cremation to ensure that advice
is given to those managing these areas. Until now it seems that
this has been very much a taboo subject with little or no guidance
being issued. Consequently Local Authorities have had to manage
them in the best way that they can. I would also add that it is
vitally important for such agencies to work closely with the Institutes
to ensure that when particular issues are looked at the overall
implications on the service and more importantly the people that
the service is provided for are fully appreciated. It is all too
easy to focus on one particular area without being aware of the
knock on effects and how that impinges on the bereaved.
The issue of what happens in the future has
still to be addressed. As an Authority we will be looking at the
way we manage the Monumental Masons and also the techniques they
use for fixing the memorials.
In addition we will be looking at the options
open to us to ensure that we do not have a similar problem with
regards to memorial safety in future years. This could mean that
we change the type of memorials we allow to those which are flat,
similar to that used in some other European Countries. Obviously,
if this approach were taken by this and possibly other Authorities
then there will be a major cultural change in the way we bury
our dead and erect memorials by which to remember.
(a) In Harrogate a memorial survey is being
undertaken. Any memorials found to be unsfe are being laid down
flat. This is decimating the cemeteries but following the HSE
Improvement Notice we have no alternative.
(b) Memorials hold significant historical
wealth, with dates and names. Therefore the cemeteries are a witness
to the past. Conservationists see this as the heritage of the
district with many memorials portraying a valuable background
to local and regional history, and architectural and artistic
significance. Without financial assistance many of those memorials
will be lost for ever along with the cultural and historical significance
that the memorials provide. To avoid this urgent core funding
needs to be provided to address this issue, as we along with many
other authorities are now undertaking work which will result in
the loss of these memorials forever without funding being available.
(c) The legislation for who is responsible
for maintaining memorials is unclear and as such when dealing
with legal liabilities this matter needs to be clarified through
a review of the legislation.
(d) DETR and other Government bodies need
to take a more active role with managers of cemeteries of closed
churchyards to assist in resolving many of the issues that arise.
In doing so it is also important that they link in with the professional
institutions to ensure all aspects are considered.
(e) What type of memorial is allowed in future
may greatly change the way our cemeteries look resulting in the
loss of a long cultural tradition.
(f) If required we can provide further evidence
with regards to the points raised above and I would be more than
happy to do so if requested.