Memorandum by Bristol City Council (CEM
Bristol is an old city with numerous prominent
cemeteries, which have a great historic and cultural significance
to the community. Bristol City Council is responsible for a total
of eight operational cemeteries and 20 closed churchyards. There
are also a host of small cemeteries attached to historically important
churches in the city that remain the responsibility of the church.
One privately owned cemetery in the City, Arnos Vale was opened
in 1839 and is a good example of the importance of a cemetery
to the community.
As a City we recognise that we are fortunate
to have Arnos Vale Cemetery, one of the first private cemeteries
to be set up by act of parliament in 1837. It is included on the
Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest
as a grade II site. There are approximately 1,200 historic parks
and gardens on the English Heritage register, compared with more
than 500,000 listed buildings. This selectivity underlines the
great importance of those historic parks and gardens that appear
on the Register.
Arnos Vale Cemetery was laid out between 1836
and 1840, and is one of the country's first metropolitan cemeteries.
Like Kensal Green (1833), Highgate (1839) and others, it was created
both in response to the overcrowding of existing city churchyard
burial grounds and to take advantage of a perceived new business
opportunity for the cemetery company's shareholders.
Burials at Arnos Vale have continued to the
present date and it contains over 40,000 burials that reflect
the social history of Bristol over the past 160 years. It has
a number of listed tombs and monuments, most important of which
is the Grade 11* listed tomb of the Raja Rahomoun Roy, a great
Indian thinker and humanist, who died on a visit to Bristol in
Arnos Vale is a major green space (45 acres)
in the centre of the City with considerable wildlife interest
and amenity value as well as a place of remembrance and history.
In 1988 when the private company that owned
Arnos Vale threatened to close the cemetery 20,000 local people
signed a petition against closure and lobbied Bristol City Council
to intervene. Consequently Bristol City Council, with the support
of English Heritage and the South West Regional Development Agency
commissioned a feasibility study to identify viable options for
the future of Arnos Vale. As part of the study extensive consultation
was carried out with the local community. The final report recommended
that Arnos Vale should be a place of remembrance, an historic
park, and a learning and education resource for the City. With
the support of Bristol City Council it is proposed a charitable
trust is established to take on the responsibility for the day
to day management of the cemetery.
Arnos Vale is an example of historic cemeteries
in cities, all of which provoke strong reactions from the community
when threatened. Other historic cemeteries such as Highgate, Nunhead
and Kensal Green have formed community partnerships to manage
them. Cemeteries provide key green spaces in the urban environment
and consultation can lead to a partnership to secure their future.
The cemeteries owned by the council are also
of considerable interest to the community. Together these cemeteries
cover 145 acres and contain some 100,000 graves. Seven of Bristol's
cemeteries were opened between 1871 and 1905 and are of considerable
historic interest. There are many spectacular memorials particularly
in the larger cemeteries at Greenbank, Avonview and Canford.
A recent survey of Bristol City Council owned
cemeteries highlighted their importance to the community for nature
conservation. The report recommends that one site should be designated
as a wildlife network site and one a potential site of nature
Cemeteries have large maintenance costs in terms
of maintaining chapels, depots, public conveniences, lodges, curtilage
walls and miles of pathways.
The maintenance of the thousands of memorials
rests with the graveowners but this means that, in reality, very
little maintenance is carried out and cemeteries frequently have
an air of neglect and lack of care. Traditionally burial plots
in the council's cemeteries were sold for a period of 75 years
and during this period legal responsibility for maintaining gravestones
rests with the owners.
In today's society families are more mobile
and more likely to move around the country and often live far
away from family graves that they are responsible for maintaining.
It is virtually impossible to determine ownership of the vast
majority of graves and therefore the council is left to deal with
the resulting problems as best it can. As the graves grow older
there is often subsidence and fixings for headstones often fail
after a number of years. A particular problem is older graves
where gravestones and monuments have fallen into disrepair over
a long period of time. This is true of many of Bristol's cemeteries
by virtue of their age.
A further major problem for cemeteries lies
in the area of health and safety. Under the Occupiers Liability
Act the Authority has a duty of care to ensure that cemeteries
are safe for public use. If the owners neglect to maintain monuments
or gravestones it is unclear where responsibilities lies for health
and safety matters. Last year 800 gravestones were identified
as being unsafe in Bristol City Council owned cemeteries and had
to be laid down. In the current year a further 200-300 stones
will be laid down for health and safety reasons.
Arnos Vale Cemetery is a particularly good example
of the problems that occur as a result of inadequate maintenance.
As income levels fell the maintenance of both the grounds and
the buildings declined, secondary woodland became established
and a general air of neglect prevailed. In the 1980s attempts
were made to clear the invading woodland, mostly ash and sycamore
scrub, but the treatment was incomplete and today there are large
areas of dense coppice regrowth. A number of changes in ownership
of the cemetery and the closure of the crematorium have contributed
to problems of management. The regeneration study commissioned
by Bristol City Council calculated the initial costs of restoration
at the site as £3.6 million and this figure does not include
all the health and safety works that may need to be carried out.
It is unclear who has the statutory responsibility for ensuring
that cemeteries are properly maintained and managed.
In addition to the eight cemeteries Bristol
has responsibility for 20 redundant churchyards. These churchyards
were declared closed by the Church of England and under current
legislation responsibility for their maintenance was passed over
to Bristol City Council. No additional resources are given to
the Authority either by central government or the church to take
on this additional financial burden. Often the churchyards have
not been kept in good repair and there are currently no guidelines
setting out standards of maintenance. The cost of the additional
expenditure has to be found from existing local government budgets.
DETR, AND OTHER
The duties of a Burial Authority to provide
and maintain cemeteries and to establish and administer crematoria
are quite clear. In respect of crematoria the role of the Home
Office also appears fairly clear. What is unclear however is who
is responsible for the oversight of burial records?
In Bristol for example we have a long-term problem
with one of our privately owned cemeteries where the burial records
are being kept in what the City Council believes to be unsuitable
conditions. The conditions they are being kept in have led to
their rapid deterioration over the past two years despite efforts
by the City Council. The Authority has been working very closely
with the Home Office to find a solution to this problem. The Home
Office has a statutory role to ensure that cremation records are
kept in good order and have used these powers to issue a Directive
to the private cemetery company. The Directive stated that the
cremation records should be stored in the Archives of Bristol
City Council. The cost of decontaminating and restoring the cremation
records was met by the City Council. Unfortunately neither the
Home Office nor any other body seems to have a statutory responsibility
in relation to burial records. These historic records which stretch
back for over 160 years and form a unique record of Bristol's
social history are rapidly approaching the point where restoration
is no longer possible. If a solution to this problem cannot be
found soon they will be lost to the City of Bristol forever. To
what extent this problem is mirrored in other parts of the country
is unknown but even the loss of the records in Bristol would constitute
Although cremation is the first choice for many
families in Bristol, around 20 per cent of families prefer burial.
Indeed as an authority serving a multi-cultural and multi-faith
community there will always be a core demand for burial land.
In Bristol we are currently carrying out a study of the population
and age profile of the City to try and quantify the need for burial
space. Current provision focuses on the only two remaining facilities
in the City, which still have space for burials, albeit one of
these is rapidly becoming full.
The indications are that local communities would
like to have access to local cemeteries either for a coffin burial
or the burial of cremated remains. Over the next two years research
is planned to see if it would be possible to develop a number
of small community cemeteries spread across the City. In a City
the size of Bristol it is thought that there is sufficient demand
to develop an additional three or four cemeteries. Each community
cemetery would be no more than four or five acres. The current
cremation facilities are adequate.
There has been a growing interest in green/woodland
burials that are felt to be more environmentally sustainable than
traditional burials. Plots can be sold for shorter periods of
time (30 years). As the cemetery develops, trees are planted and
the cemetery changes and develops from a green open space to a
small woodland park for the enjoyment of the community.
The management and provision of cemetery services
is currently split between local government and the private sector.
Traditional cemeteries have only a limited lifespan for burials
according to how quickly they become full. This causes problems
for both local government and the private sector because without
an income stream, where do the resources come from to continue
to maintain them?
Arnos Vale is an example of a large private
sector cemetery, which because of the lack of burial space has
not been able to produce a sufficient income stream to maintain
the cemetery and it has gradually fallen into disrepair. Local
government has similar problems on a far larger scale. Out of
the eight cemeteries and 20 closed churchyards that Bristol City
Council own, only two have space for new graves.
There are a number of issues relating to the
long-term maintenance of cemeteries. Maintenance of traditional
cemeteries is very labour intensive and costly. Once the income
stream is exhausted there is the problem of ongoing maintenance
for a future indeterminate time period. Inevitably the original
grave owners are no longer on the scene themselves and there is
no one with an interest in the grave that is prepared to take
on the ongoing financial commitment. Maintenance costs particularly
in relation to Health and Safety can be very high. Cemeteries
rely on the income from burials for their upkeep, once the cemetery
is full they become an open-ended financial liability.
As the local authority has the responsibility
of being the burial authority this brings with it the added problem
of cemeteries having to compete in competition for resources with
other high profile services and departments, like education, social
The committee is asked to consider:
1. Legislation should be examined to clarify
legal responsibility for graves and monuments and extend local
authority powers to allow neglected memorials to be removed during
the term of grant;
2. extend the responsibilities the Home
Office currently has for cremation records to include burial records;
3. the problem of how to turn the largely
redundant cemeteries including associated cemetery buildings into
an amenity asset for the community;
4. provide guidance on standards of maintenance
of closed churchyards. Consider a formula for awarding additional
resources to local government to meet the maintenance and restoration
costs of closed churchyards passed to them under the Act.