Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Warrington Borough Council (CEM 67)


  1.1  Warrington Borough Council has a population of 190,000 with approximately 80,000 households. To serve this population the Bereavement Services Section has a crematorium based at Walton Lea dealing with 1,700 cremations per annum. It also has four cemeteries as follows:

    —  Warrington Cemetery—Opened in 1857 with an acreage of 33.6 acres. This cemetery is now closed for new burials.

    —  Hollinfare Cemetery—Opened in 1984 with an acreage of 2 acres. This cemetery has a limited amount of space but is still open for new burials.

    —  Burtonwood Cemetery—Opened in 1900 with an acreage of 1.9 acres. This cemetery has a limited amount of space but is still open for new burials.

    —  Fox Covert Cemetery—Opened in 1963 with an acreage of 12.25. It has now been necessary to plan for an extension to the Cemetery. This is the most heavily used of all the cemeteries accounting for around 80 per cent of all new burials.

  1.2  In addition to the above, Warrington Borough Council are responsible for the maintenance of 9 closed churchyards.

  1.3  Warrington Borough Council is proud of the standard of service provided to its residents and is pleased to report that Bereavement Services are considered to be of a resonably high priority within the Authority. This is not the case with many authorities and can often be reflected in the standard of the service provided.


  2.1  There is no doubt that cemeteries attract high visitor numbers throughout the year, peaking at such times as Mother's/Father's Day, Easter and Christmas. With suitable investment and greater initiative from responsible officers, cemeteries could better meet the needs of the communities in which they are situated.

  2.2  The historical value of cemeteries is well known, although often not taken full advantage of by development of educational trails tracing local historic events. Again the lack of development of such historic value comes from a combination of a lack of suitable funding combined with a lack of vision from responsible officers who are often poorly paid and lack suitable experience.

  2.3  Cemeteries form part of a town or city's `green lungs' and are of environmental importance for this reason alone. More than this, consideration should be given to flora and fauna with steps taken to actively develop wildlife within the cemeteries. The Church of England funded "living Churchyard and Cemetery Project" could usefully be adopted by Burial Authorities along with the IBCA's Charter for the Bereaved and Best Value Assessment Process.

  2.4  To properly meet the needs of the community as well as promoting historical and environmental issues, Burial Authorities should consult their key stakeholders and develop Management Plans for their cemeteries including the range of issues identified in this section. Due to a shortage of suitably trained and experienced officers this can be difficult in some smaller authorities where cemeteries are often low profile. This is certainly the case in Town and Parish Councils who retain a burial function—they often find it difficult to employ a suitably experienced officer. Given this problem Warrington Borough Council support the call for cemetery services to be dealt with in a more consistent manner with joint guidance on a more regional basis.


  3.1  Whilst the overall standard of Warrington's cemeteries are very good in comparison with many in the country there are still a number of problems that result in standards being lower than they should be. The following deals with the types of problems experienced in both Warrington and other cemeteries throughout the country.

  3.2  Dangerous Memorials—Memorials have been erected in our cemeteries since the middle of the 19th Century. Prior to this burials were carried out in churchyards, which are also being transferred to local authorities who then become responsible for their ongoing maintenance.

  Many of these memorials are very large and are becoming unstable (elsewhere around the country this has resulted in a number of fatal accidents). It is only recently that it has become clear that these memorials need to be regularly inspected and dealt with if they are found to be dangerous. It is clear from the limited number of cemeteries that have been property inspected, over the last two or three years, that there are many thousands of memorials that have become unsafe over the years. Due to lack of additional funding for this work, there is, no doubt, a temptation to lay these memorials flat or remove them from cemeteries, thus simplifying maintenance and avoiding any further problems with these structures. This type of approach could soon erode both the aesthetic and historical value that our cemeteries can offer.

  In addition to the deterioration of memorials is the deterioration of the remainder of the fabric of the cemeteries. Cemetery chapels, walls, fences etc are often lower on the list of local authority priorities, as spending budgets are continuously cut year on year. Such deterioration then attracts vandalism and misuse, speeding the deterioration.

  3.3  New Burials and Memorialisation—It is clear that costs are beginning to drive the cemeteries function rather than quality of service. Many burial authorities have restricted the provision of new burials and memorials to those for lawn cemeteries. This has been done to reduce maintenance costs, however, what it also does is restrict choice and diminish the continuance of traditional skills. These skills are used to make the type of unique memorials that have been placed in cemeteries in the past and, therefore, make them such interesting places to visit.

  3.4  Grounds Maintenance—Standards of grounds maintenance are also very variable in cemeteries. Once again this can relate to the priority cemeteries, and grounds maintenance in general, are given within the authority. Of course, grounds maintenance standards are not statutory and are, therefore, more liable to cost cuts that lower the standards of provision. In addition to this CCT, whilst initially responsible for some useful efficiencies, is now responsible for some serious shortcuts in the provision of the service, unless a disproportionate amount of money is spent on the monitoring of contracts. This should be considered during any Best Value reviews that include cemeteries. Efforts should be made to develop qualitative outcome specifications and reduce duplication in order that available finances can be invested directly in the service.


  4.1  The government should play an active role in the promotion of Bereavement Services throughout the country taking a national strategic approach to the disposal of the dead to achieve consistent standards throughout the country.

  4.2  The importance of such a strategic approach is clear when considering such issues as the disposal of body parts and the emergency legislation that was rushed through parliament with little reference to possible consequences, as highlighted at the time by the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration. It is also clear that in passing this legislation an ideal opportunity to deal with the provision of suitable legislation or the sensitive disposal of foetal remains was ignored. As a result many thousands of foetuses are still disposed of as clinical waste. It should be noted that Alder Hey Hospital has recently been criticised for keeping foetal remains. If the truth were known about how the majority of foetuses are disposed of throughout the country then the British public would be outraged. Bereavement Services Managers throughout the country have had to deal with mothers wanting to trace the remains of foetuses disposed of by hospitals only to find they have been disposed of as clinical waste at a waste disposal incinerator hundreds of miles away.

  4.3  This is not a satisfactory state of affairs and the government should consider legislation to ensure the sensitive disposal of foetal remains. The Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration have produced guidelines on how this could be achieved and are currently discussing matters with the Royal College of Nursing to achieve guidelines that meet the needs of all parties involved, particularly the needs of the parents.

  4.4  The government should look at all other inquiries currently being undertaken where disposal of the dead, or their body parts, are involved. This would include such inquiries as:

    —  The Alder Hey Disposal of Body Parts Inquiry.

    —  The OFT Inquiry into Cemeteries and Crematoria.

    —  The Shipman Inquiry and its relevance in relation to registration and certification of deaths and the subsequent burial or cremation.

  4.5  To improve the status of bereavement services within local authorities Warrington Borough Council support the IBCA's bid for a full time inspectorate for cemeteries and crematoria. Such a body could then police the application of a national strategic approach to provision, supported by relevant and informed legislation that could replace many of the now dated legislation that currently governs burial and cremation. This would be particularly relevant to private cemeteries, currently provided under the Cemetery Clauses Act 1847. A more balanced approach should now be taken to the provision of public and private cemeteries as there is in legislation governing the provision and operation of crematoria.

  4.6  If a bereavement services inspectorate, or even an inspector, is not feasible then specific consideration for cemeteries and crematoria should be given to suitably experienced Best Value Inspectors. Cemeteries and crematoria could then be properly assessed following the Best Value Review of the service which they will form part, unless they happen to be large enough to be considered autonomously. For the vast majority of services it is suspected this will be inappropriate.


  5.1  This area overlaps to a great extent with a national strategic approach and what the Government could achieve in this area. Warrington Borough Council believe that the Government should place a duty on Burial Authorities to ensure their area is adequately served by cemetery and crematoria services. This should include the ability for Burial Authorities to reuse old and abandoned graves as proposed in the report "Planning for Burial Space in London—Policies for Sustainable Cemeteries in the New Millennium". The principles included in this report should be applied as part of a national strategy.

  5.2  Probably the most important document currently available for reference in the long term planning for new cemeteries and burial space is the Charter for the Bereaved. This clearly sets out what the public can expect from the provision of bereavement services. If new provision is to provide the necessary range of choice and expectation, then design should be based around the issues contained within the Charter for the Bereaved.

  5.3  Warrington Borough Council support the recommendations contained in the joint report prepared by the CBA and IBCA titled the Management of Memorials. This contains advice on inspection of memorials and such issues as the expansion of customer choice and adjustments to the way in which the right of burial is controlled, reducing the periods of lease. This is an important document in the long term planning for the provision and maintenance of cemeteries.


  6.1  Staff—The ability and competence of staff employed within Bereavement Services varies considerably. For the service to be managed and developed sensitively and effectively it is essential that any person appointed to a management post is a suitably qualified member of the IBCA with sufficient experience.

  6.2  Service—The IBCA Charter for the Bereaved defines the rights of those experiencing a bereavement and sets minimum standards in the provision of Bereavement Services. In addition it also sets a number of targets for the development of the service. All burial authorities should be required to meet the minimum standards contained in the Charter and be encouraged to work towards achieving the targets identified. Best Value inspectors can readily monitor progress of burial authorities by utilising the IBCA Best Value Assessment Process.

  Many hazards exist in cemeteries due to unstable memorials, often as a result of poor workmanship. It is essential that burial authorities be given the power to provide and install memorials to help ensure their safe installation. Empowering burial authorities to provide this and other appropriate funeral services would also ensure greater competition, providing better value for money to the public.


  7.1  There have not been many successful lottery bids for cemetery schemes. Bereavement Services are once again seen as a Cinderella service and not given sufficient priority from lottery distributing bodies. As indicated previously, the service needs to be given a higher status on a national basis.

December 2000

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