Memorandum by Giles Dolphin for the Greater
London Authority (CEM 104)
Giles Dolphin is a Chartered Town Planner and
works as the Planning Decisions Manager at the Greater London
Authority. Previously, he was Assistant Chief Planner (Environment)
at the London Planning Advisory Committee, where he led research
into the future burial needs of Greater London. LPAC was abolished
on 31 March 2000 and its staff and resources were absorbed into
the Greater London Authority. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone,
has indicated his support for the work undertaken by LPAC and
the policies that arose from it. He intends to include appropriate
policies in his new spatial development strategy.
1. London, a vast urban area of 6.9 million
people divided between 33 separate local authorities, has complicated
arrangements for burying its dead. Each of the London borough
councils is a burials authority, but none has any statutory duty
to provide or maintain cemeteries. Nevertheless most do own and
operate them, located either within their boundaries, or elsewhere,
or both. Some have no burial facilities at all. There are 124
municipal cemeteries in total, including two located outside Greater
London. Two are shared between adjacent boroughs. Most were developed
by quite different local authorities or 19th century burial boards
before the present boroughs were created in 1965. Some were originally
private, taken over by the local authorities when the private
companies failed. The situation is further complicated by 12 Jewish,
three Roman Catholic, one Church of England and one Muslim cemetery,
and by nine operational private cemeteries. Of the 133 non-religious
cemeteries, 47 are completely full, and seven have less than 50
unused grave spaces. Burials also take place in various churchyards,
but not in any great number.
2. About 29 per cent of deaths in London
are followed by burial. Cremation deals with the rest, at 12 borough
councils, five joint boards, and eight private crematoria.
3. Since the abolition of the Greater London
Council in 1986, there has been no organisation able to take a
long-term, London-wide view of future burial needs and supply.
In 1975 the London Boroughs Association commissioned a study from
the GLC, but its findings had little impact. Londoners today rely
on cemeteries dating mainly from the 19th and early 20th Centuries,
and only 11 new cemeteries, all small in scale, have been laid
out since 1940.
4. Given the fragmented nature of the ownership
and management of cemeteries in London, planning for the future
is uncertain and inadequate, and many boroughs face the prospect
of running out of space, thus joining the two that have already
done so.4 Too often, local authority cemetery managers are inadequately
supported by their council colleagues. Cemetery management has
been described as the Cinderella service of local government (more
recently this has been denied; it is the Ugly Sister service of
local government)unconsidered, undervalued and unappreciated.
For town planners, valuers, property managers and finance officers,
burials and cremation is a somewhat embarrassing service. Town
planners in particular remain ignorant of the subject. Even though
they need to know about it, they prefer not to know.
5. It is the function of the town planning
system to ensure an adequate supply of land for necessary uses,
including cemeteries and crematoria. The burials and cremation
industry relies on the planning system for the necessary planning
permissions. From the planning point of view, the simple question
of land supply is vastly complicated by the need to resolve conflicts.
The most basic of these is competition for the use of the same
bit of land. But planning also has to accommodate special interests,
such as the need to protect buildings, monuments and areas of
historic, architectural or nature conservation importance; or
the need to prevent atmospheric pollution or contamination to
the ground water supply; or the need, since the Rio Earth Summit
in 1992, to reduce the amount of travel, including travel to cemeteries.
6. There is, of course, nothing new in any
of thisbut both planning authorities and burial authorities
have grown complacent since 1945, thanks to the post-war rise
in cremation. This has allowed us to eke out unused land in cemeteries
for much longer than anticipated. But that happy situation has
already come to an end in parts of London, and will do so elsewhere
over the next decade. Sites for three new cemeteries have been
identified, and land to extend 12 existing cemeteries is also
in the pipeline. But the land in question is presently used for
playing fields, allotments, agriculture, woodland, nature study
centres and country parks, etc.
7. In the past we allowed our city churchyards
to fill up and overflow, producing foul scenes of horror so graphically
described by Charles Dickens and others. From the 1830s, following
the Parisian example, private companies set up the first wave
of great cemeteries on the outskirts of London and other cities.
These were very successful to start with, but the Victorians,
being much more civic-minded than we are now, thought that burials
were the proper business of local government. The next wave of
cemeteries, this time municipal, were opened from the 1850s. When
they filled up, the local authorities simply opened up new ones,
only further out from the centre. Always, ample space was available
in the countryside.
8. But in the middle of the 20th century,
two things happened. Firstly, the Metropolitan Green Belt was
clamped around London. This immediately increased the pressure
on remaining open land. Secondly, cremation boomed. In London
the cremation rate was a mere 4 per cent in 1945. Over the next
40 years it grew to over 70 per cent. That growth has slowed down,
and might even be about to decline. This is due partly to an increase
in religious groups that reject cremation. It might also be due
to changing fashion, as pointed out by the social research think
tank, Comedia.5 Whatever the reason, the slowing down of the rise
of cremation is coinciding with the filling up of London's cemeteries.
9. To make matters worse, London is now
faced with two new phenomena. Firstly, most redundant industrial
and utilities land will soon have been re-cycled. Secondly, 629,000
new households will be formed in London over the next 20 years
or so,6 creating yet more demands on land. Cemetery managers face
insuperable odds competing with the house builders and superstores
for the ever reducing supply of land.
10. Together with the Confederation of Burial
Authorities and the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration,
with extra funding from the Corporation of London, LPAC decided
to assess the scale of the problem, and to think about some solutions.
Already, the need to allow old graves to be re-cycled had been
raised.7 Research by Professor Davies of Nottingham University
showed that a large proportion of the population would accept
the re-use of graves once 100 years had passed since the last
interment. It was clear, however, that the necessary legislation
stood no chance of securing Government approval unless a compelling
case could be made.
11. LPAC and its partners therefore appointed
planning consultants Halcrow Fox and York University's Cemetery
Research Group to do three things. First, they were asked to quantify
the demand for burial in the foreseeable future. Using census
statistics, the average number of deaths in each London borough
up to 2016 was calculated. This is declining, from about 78,000
in 1981 to 53,000 in 2016, but it will start to grow again after
the decline has bottomed out. In the absence of any robust evidence
to the contrary, it was assumed that the burial/cremation ratio
rate would not change significantly. If the cremation rate does
begin to fall, the situation for cemetery reserves will be worse
than the research shows.
12. Certain assumptions were then made about
the number of burials that would take place in existing family
graves, using recent rates as an example.
13. An allowance for religious or cultural
groups which don't practise cremation was then attempted. Clearly,
concentrations of, say, Muslims in a particular part of London
would result in a higher demand for burial spaces. Also, Jews
and to a lesser extent Roman Catholics tend to be buried in separate
cemeteries, and thus municipal cemeteries in areas with concentrations
of these groups might experience a lower demand for burials. Other
groups have different characteristics. The Greek Orthodox community
prefers separate sections of cemeteries. Some growing Protestant
groups, such as Pentecostal churches that are popular amongst
the African and West Indian communities, also tend to reject cremation,
and this would have consequences for certain parts of London.
Unfortunately the census contains no information about religion.
One can only guess at the number of Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics
and Protestants. Some information was obtained from church authorities
regarding the number of adherents, but this was unreliable. A
religious question will be asked in the 2001 census, and it will
be worthwhile to repeat the calculations when the data becomes
available in 2005 or so. Meanwhile, people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi
origin were identified as a proxy for the Muslim population, and
the necessary allowance in the projected death rates for each
borough was made.
14. In parallel with this research into
deaths, the amount of space left in London's cemeteries was investigated.
This proved to be no easy task. It was impossible, for example,
to measure or even estimate the reserves in existing family graves.
Hence, recent data on re-openings from CIPFA statistics10 was
used to make projections of re-openings. Fairly accurate data
was received from cemetery managers on the area of unused land
set aside in cemeteries for non-denominational burials, together
with data on the area in proposed extensions to cemeteries, and
in proposed new cemeteries. Borough planning departments provided
information on present land uses, and whether it had planning
permission for burials, or was designated in development plans
for cemetery use. Maps 1 and 2 of the LPAC report11show respectively
the area of cemeteries in London and their remaining capacity;
the differences are instructive.
15. It then remained to put the two sets
of data togetherthe demand, in terms of the average number
of deaths each year, and the supply, in terms of the amount of
land available. The result is the number of years each borough
has before it will run out of burial space.
16. The data is published in detail in the
report "Burial Space Needs in London" available from
LPAC. The data was subsequently tested by LPAC against several
scenarios to take account of variables such as the distance between
where people live and where the burial space is. This is contained
in the report "Planning for Burial Space Needs in London."
12 The results are encapsulated in Table 1, attached. It does
not include denominational space.
17. There are six scenarios. Column (Scenario)
A is geographical, with little relevance for planning purposes.
Scenario B includes all of each borough council's own cemeteries,
including those located far away outside the borough, plus a proportion
of other non-denominational space located in or close to the borough
both public and privately owned. Like Scenario A, this disregards
proposed new cemeteries, and is the best indication of years remaining
on the basis of ownership, but assumes that distance is no problem.
18. Scenario C is the same as B, but excludes
reserves in existing cemeteries that are located far from the
borough. For planning purposes this is the best scenario, as it
takes account of the proximity principle, and takes a realistic,
perhaps severe, attitude to land identified for new cemeteries.
19. Scenario D is the same as C, but includes
in addition all reserves in sites identified for new or extended
council cemeteries in or near to the borough in question, and
a proportion of others as appropriate. It deals with the short
term and assumes 2,000 burials per hectare.
20. Scenario E is the same as B, but includes
all council-owned space in proposed new cemeteries wherever they
are, and a proportion of other councils' proposed cemeteries,
as appropriate. This also assumes 2,000 burials per hectare.
21. Finally, Scenario F is the same as E,
but takes a longer term view, and assumes 5,000 burials per hectare,
as family graves eventually fill up.
22. It was assumed that 100 per cent of
burial spaces in each council-owned cemetery located within the
borough will be taken by residents of that borough; and that a
high proportion of spaces located outside the borough will be
taken by residents of the owning borough, with the rest being
taken by residents of the host borough and, in some cases, other
neighbouring boroughs. Where possible account was taken of the
distance of the cemetery from the owning and neighbouring boroughs;
the reserves held by the host and neighbouring boroughs in other
cemeteries located within their own boundaries; the degree to
which the owning borough depends on the cemetery in question;
the type, quality and character of the cemetery; and the effect
if any of higher burial charges levied on non-residents of the
owning borough. It was assumed that burial spaces in private non-denominational
cemeteries will be taken by residents of the host and neighbouring
boroughs, taking account of the above factors, as appropriate.
23. Scenario C showed that on average each
borough has 13 years to go before it runs out of burial space,
with seven years in inner London, and 18 in outer London. Hackney
and Tower Hamlets have no space, anywhere; and Westminster has
none within a reasonable distance. Even some outer London boroughs,
such as Croydon, Brent, Ealing and Enfield, had only three years
or less within a reasonable distance.
24. Scenario D, which includes proposed
new space in or close to each borough, paints a happier picture.
The London average is 36 yearsbut only eight in inner London.
25. Scenario E, which takes account of all
potential reserves, including those located far away, has a London
average of 50 years, with 28 in inner London. But this includes
new land that cannot be relied on. Southwark Council provides
a good warning. It plans to reclaim land acquired long ago for
cemetery use, but quite properly made available for playing fields
in the meantime. Controversy ensued when local footballers, children
and dog-walkers found they would have to make way for the dead.
26. Other land is used for allotments. Usually
the allotment holders understand and accept that their occupation
is temporary; but the current search for housing land is leading
planners and house builders to cast their eyes on these allotments,
and burial managers may well get caught up in a new "protect
our allotments" movement.
27. Some sites are used as nature study
centres for school children. Others occupy beautiful rolling countryside.
Some even have commercial operations on them, bringing in valuable
income to the Borough Treasurer.
28. So, no matter how definite the cemetery
managers' plans are, in many cases they will not be able to proceed.
In many cases, they should not be allowed to proceed, because
existing uses and landscapes have a greater moral claim; and because
some of the sites are simply too far from the bereaved. However,
there is actually no need to proceed: a sustainable solutionre-useis
29. It is the overall picture that matters;
and the picture is one of rapidly diminishing burial space reserves.
The combined effect of these figures provides the evidence for
the systematic re-use of old graves. Like so many other non-renewable
resources, land for cemeteries will have to be re-cycled. Already,
London's burial land occupies an area greater than a small London
borough, and London cannot afford to increase this indefinitely.
A halt to cemetery growth is inevitable.
30. The maintenance of old cemeteries, particularly
full cemeteries, is a closely related issue. Nothing is more depressing
than the appearance of Abney Park, Nunhead and Tower Hamlets Cemeteries,
three of London's original great seven. Highgate and Kensal Green
are not much better. They are derelict; given over to brambles,
Japanese knotweed and sycamores; and prey to vandalism, neglect
and decay. Coming upon a wonderful old tomb in these or many other
cemeteries must be like coming across a Mayan temple in the Central
American Jungle. We too, have our jungles. We tend to call them
nature reserves, but in truth they often make pretty shabby and
uninteresting nature reserves. How exciting, then, is the prospect
of re-using the graves in these derelict cemeteries, thus bringing
in new income to help defray the cost of restoration and maintenance.
31. Hugh Meller illustrates his book on
London cemeteries13 with a photograph of the glorious Berens sarcophagus
at West Norwood. Scandalously, a substantial sapling was growing
through its shattered roof. It was still there in September last
year. What a way to treat "one of the finest High Victorian
monuments in the country"14 (as described by Lambeth Council
itself). No-one imagines re-using the Berens tomb; but countless
lesser monuments could be moved carefully aside; any mortal remains
exhumed and placed in a small casket at the bottom of the grave
space; the space re-used by tomorrow's dead; and the old monument
reinstalled. The income from the sale of the re-used grave space
could not only ensure the monument was replaced safely and upright;
but some of it could be used to save gems like the Berens tomb.
32. To what extent would re-use meet burial
needs? LPAC's consultants estimated that in inner London there
are 80 hectares of land with graves other 100 years old, and a
further 70 hectares between 50 and 100. Annually, about two hectares
could be added to the stock where the graves exceed 100 years.
If a 100-year rule was pursued, 160,000 burial spaces in inner
London would be available immediately, and a further 10,000 added
each year. This calculation is based on very conservative assumptions,
and compares to an annual burial needs forecast in inner London
of 5,812. A more robust assessment of the potential of re-use
has not yet been produced; but it does look as if existing graves
could be re-cycled indefinitely, thus eliminating the need for
new cemeteries in London.
33. Since LPAC formulated its policies,
it has been suggested by the IBCA and others that 75 years would
be a more appropriate timescale for re-use. This would virtually
guarantee that London could bury its dead within existing cemetery
34. At present, exhumation licences or faculties
are required in order to re-use old graves. These are not granted
for the purpose of creating burial space. Private cemeteries seem
to get blanket permission for area re-use, 15 but this option
seems to be unavailable to municipal cemeteries. Legislation is
needed to enable cemetery managers to re-use graves without further
recourse to the Home Office or ecclesiastical authorities. For
this to be acceptable, a management plan would have to be in place
for each cemetery.
35. In identifying graves for re-use, cemetery
managers would have to be selective. Quality tombs and memorials
would have to be preserved. Areas of acknowledged nature conservation
value would have to be left out. The Royal Commission on Ancient
Monuments would have to be satisfied that proper archaeological
investigations were accommodated. Burial in a re-used grave would
have to be optional. Living relatives would have to have the right
to veto the re-use of a grave. The overall character of each cemetery,
its wider role in the community and its spiritual dimension would
have to be respected.
36. There are, of course, other options
for dealing with the shortage of space. Intermediate burial is
the most widely practised. From the hard pressed cemetery manager's
point of view, it can be very useful to squeeze new graves between
spaciously laid out 19th century graves, or to rip up ornamental
flower beds for new graves, or even to take over cemetery roads
and paths for burials. Unavoidable as they may have been to date,
these are deplorable practices, as they destroy the character
and quality of cemeteries.
37. Land raising is another option, but
also destroys character. Monuments have to be swept away, then
a new layer of top soil is spread over the old graves, anything
up to 20 feet deep. This is a short-term expedient, because it
is unlikely that land-raising can be repeated more than once;
the prospect of burial mountains is not pleasant.
38. Re-claiming unused space in family graves
after 75 years have elapsed since the last interment has its benefits,
but the administrative procedures can be lengthy and expensive;
and it prevents full re-use. The process has proved popular in
re-using old and derelict private cemeteries for Muslim burials
such as at Tottenham Park and Woodgrange Park, but this also destroys
character, and prevents any further re-cycling.
39. Only re-use makes long-term sense.
40. With all this in mind, LPAC, the CBA
and IBCA drew up policies, based on certain strategic principles
for burial provision. The first is choice: this it is a person's
basic right to choose how their body is disposed of. Secondly,
cost: unless absolutely necessary, people ought not to be coerced
into cremation, or burial far away, if their preference is to
be buried locally. Thirdly, proximity: the bereaved, particularly
those who are elderly, should be able to visit graves without
having to travel unduly long distances, or incur great financial
cost. Fourthly, open space: the use of sports grounds, farmland,
allotments and woodlands, etc, should be avoided. (London has
little enough open space as it is, and what it does have will
become more precious as densities increase in order to avoid development
on greenfield sites.) Fifthly, conservation: features of architectural
or historic interest should be treated sympathetically, including
assemblages of monuments. Sixthly, archaeology: clear guidelines
are needed to safeguard archaeological remains and to facilitate
investigation. And seventhly, biodiversity: the rich archaeological
resource of some parts or some cemeteries should be acknowledged.
41. Policy 1 is concerned with regulation.
The Home Office should introduce further legislation and a regulatory
authority to ensure the proper maintenance of all local authority
and private cemeteries, including the protection of human remains
from disturbance, whether deliberate or accidental. This should
include a presumption against the excavation of burial spaces
in any part of a cemetery unless it can be demonstrated that no
burials have previously taken place there.
42. Policy 2 requires all those involved
in burial provision to adhere to the strategic principles outlined
above. Strategic co-ordination is the basis of Policy 3. In conjunction
with LPAC, the CBA's forum of London Cemetery Managers should
formulate and then consult further on proposals for the strategic
co-ordination of burial space provision and access to it. The
objectives should be to make cemetery space in London available
to all Londoners, regardless of borough ownership but taking into
account the proximity principle, without financial penalty on
the bereaved living in boroughs not owning burial spaces; to provide
an adequate amount and variety of burial spaces to meet residents'
needs; to co-ordinate the provision, allocation and sale of burial
space at a strategic level; and to provide impartial advice to
the bereaved on the funeral choices available to them, in terms
of cost and proximity. In doing so, the possibility of a new London
agency, authority or committee of the new Greater London Authority,
should be examined.
43. Policy 4 urges the CBA to carry out
a regular six yearly review of future burial space supply and
demand, with a regular two yearly survey of current burial space
supply and burials by religion and denomination. It should promote
a uniform system for keeping burial space records in London.
44. Policy 5 aims to maximise remaining
capacity in cemeteries, by digging all new plots to 3.1 metres
where soil and drainage conditions permit; selling burial rights
for a maximum of 50 years, or introducing other measures having
a similar effect, such as ten-year rolling burial rights; reclaiming
all unused burial spaces for new burials in private graves where
existing burial rights have expired or can be determined; and
at the appropriate time, investigating bringing back into use
full or disused cemeteries.
45. "Green" burial may have some
potential in London, and Policy 6 urges the CBA and LPAC to examine
this and consult on proposals for woodland cemeteries in the Green
Belt and on poor quality open spaces, including derelict or damaged
land, to meet both the demand for this type of burial and to improve
open space and natural habitats.
46. Policy 7, which urges the Home Office
to agree new legislation to facilitate the reuse of burial spaces
on a systematic basis, is perhaps the most important product of
the LPAC study. Policy 8 provides the all-important safeguard:
burial spaces should only be re-used in accordance with cemetery-specific
"cemetery management plans", containing a schedule for
re-use in a phased way, in accordance with their potential for
reuse identified in the plan. They should include surveys of the
age, distribution and listed status of the graves; other listed
structures; conservation area designations; natural habitats and
bio-diversity; landscape; potentially important archaeological
remains; and scope for the provision of new forms of burial.
47. Finally, taking account of religious
customs, Policy 9 states that the re-use of burial spaces should
only be considered where: records and plans that determine the
date and nature of previous burials are available; the graves
to be renewed, whether public or private, have been properly reclaimed;
at least 100 years (or 75, depending on consultation on public
attitudes) have passed since the last burial took place, and the
grave is not considered to be of any archaeological importance;
it does not cause damage to natural habitats or reduce biodiversity;
it does not adversely impact on historic features; and the area
to be re-used is covered by a comprehensive cemetery management
48. These policies are aimed at local authorities,
both cremation and burial managers and town planners, and at the
Government. To bring about the necessary legislation, LPAC, the
CBA and the IBCA lobbied the Home Office, and were able to demonstrate
that the problem was real and urgent, and that the re-use solution
would work, and would have public support. By then, it had ceased
to be a London issue, as evidence came forward of similar problems
across the country, not only in the large cities, but even in
rural villages. A Home Office consultation paper was prepared,
but a considerable time has passed without further action by the
Home Office. The reasons given for shelving the consultation paper
49. Without re-use, Londoners will either
have to be buried miles away in the Green Belt; or be buried in
landraised or crammed cemeteries where character has been destroyed;
or have cremation forced on them, with our entire legacy of splendid
cemeteries deteriorating into unkempt, derelict, dangerous, useless
blots on the landscape, and Londoners, deserve better.
NUMBER OF OPERATIONAL YEARS REMAINING
|Outer London average||48
|Outer London excluding the six boroughs with highest reserves1
|Barking and Dagenham||12
|Inner London average||6
|City of London3||
|Hammersmith and Fulham4||3
|Kensington and Chelsea4||12
|Greater London average||30
1 Different boroughs for each column.
2 The site of the proposed Kingsbury Cemetery is partly woodland,
and burial densities may be lower than the standard rates used
3 No analysis is given for the City, because of its exceptionally
low number of deaths.
4 Kensal Green Cemetery is divided equally between Hammersmith
and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea.
5 The Lambeth and Wandsworth figures assume 1,000 remaining
spaces in Lambeth Cemetery (not 10,000, as suggested in the survey
6 The figures for Newham (and, to some extent, adjacent Boroughs)
are under-estimates, as details of remaining space were not provided
for the three privately-owned cemeteries in Newham.
1. Including Brompton Cemetery, compulsorily acquired
by the Government in 1852, and now administered by the Royal Parks
Agency for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
2. Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Tandridge District,
owned by Croydon Council; and Carpenders Park Cemetery, in Three
Rivers District, owned by Brent Council.
3. Merton & Sutton Joint Cemetery; and Bandon Hill
Cemetery (Croydon and Sutton Councils).
4. Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
5. Ken Worple, "The Cemetery in the City" (Comedia,
6. Department of the Environment, "Projections of
Households in England to 2016" (HMSO, 1995).
7. London Planning Advisory Committeea statutory
committee of all 33 London planning authorities, set up in 1986
by the Act which abolished the Greater London Council, and abolished
by the Greater London Authority Act 1999.
8. Ian Hussein, paper on "Re-use of Graves",
Joint Conference of Burial Authorities, 1993.
9. Davies D and A Shaw, "Reusing Old Graves: A Report
on Popular British Attitudes" (Shaw & Sons 1995).
10. Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy,
Cemeteries Statistics, annual.
11. Halcrow Fox in association with York University's
Cemetery Research Group and The Landscape Partnership, "Burial
Space Needs in London" (LPAC, December 1996, CON56).
12. LPAC in conjunction with the CBA and IBCA with the
support of the Corporation of London, "Planning for Burial
Space in London" (LPAC August 1997, CON69).
13. Hugh Meller, "London CemeteriesAn Illustrated
Guide and Gazetteer" (Scolar Press, 1981; revised 1985, 1994).
14. Lambeth Council, "West Norwood Cemetery",
15. eg Woodgrange Park Cemetery Act 1993.