30 April 2012

Honor Oak Rec's future

Southwark Council have published their Cemetery Strategy, which will go before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, 8 May 2012. The meeting will be held in the Ground Floor Meeting Room G02A at 160 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2QH.

According to the Executive summary, the Strategy considers a range of options addressing short, medium and long term provision of burial space, and focusses on the Camberwell Old Cemetery and Camberwell New Cemetery.

The ‘immediate’ options presented to cabinet have been considered and are being developed alongside and as part of the ‘short term’ options proposed in this report. These include recently decontaminated land at the old Honor Oak Nursery site, as well as an area of old public (or common) graves in the south of Camberwell Old Cemetery which requires to be ‘topped up’ with soil to enable it to receive burials. A wooded area of virgin ground in the west of Camberwell New Cemetery is similarly proposed to be taken forward.

In addition further burial is proposed for the remainder of the old nursery site and for a second area of public graves that had previously been ‘topped up’ in the north of Camberwell Old Cemetery. These proposals also include capacity for Muslim burials.

‘Medium Term’ options from 2022 onward include the re-use of unmarked public graves older than 75 years old (and in most instances nearly 95 years old) in consecrated parts of Camberwell Old and Camberwell New Cemeteries. This would be subject to church permission (a ‘Faculty’) and any remains encountered would be re-interred and recorded in a consecrated grave adjacent. This has been approach has been successful elsewhere, notably in the City of London Cemetery.

In addition, in the medium term, it is proposed that rights to private graves older than 75 years could be cancelled under the provisions of an Act of parliament of 1975. Unused space in that grave could then be reclaimed for burial, or alternatively, if the grave is set within consecrated ground, the grave could be re-used subject to a Faculty. In these instances memorials would be selected and where appropriate restored and reinscribed.

The whole process would require the adherence to a Conservation Management Plan bespoke to each cemetery. Reclamation of graves along with the restoration/re-inscription of memorials has also been successfully implemented at the City of London.

Other measures proposed in the medium term include development of mausoleum sites in Camberwell Old and Camberwell New Cemeteries and the remediation and use of a disturbed area of ground (currently being investigated) in the north west of Camberwell Old Cemetery.

According to the Strategy report, medium term options potentially provide space until 2040 depending on burial rates and delivery of space. However, the Council has been noticebly inaccurate in its previous estimates. Long term options proposed include the re-use and reclamation of both private and public graves, mainly in Camberwell New Cemetery.

There are, however clouds on the horizon.

Firstly, whilst other authorities in London may re-use private graves in areas that are not consecrated (under the provisions of Acts of parliament of 1976 and 2007), that same provision does not extend to Southwark on account of the way the 2007 Act is drafted. This needs legal clarification and/or a change in the law to remedy and it is proposed that Southwark should pursue that matter in the short and medium term.

Secondly, most areas of Camberwell New Cemetery do not become ‘old’ enough for re-use until at least 2045, by which time all the short and medium term options will have been exhausted.

The Strategy report proposes taking up a third of Honor Oak Park to bridge this gap, whilst retaining the football pitches and substantively enhancing the remainder of the Park. (See page 65 of Strategy Report)

The Strategy report recognises that this is likely to be unpopular and, at this point in time, it is not an option preferred by the Council. The Strategy therefore considers it essential that the Council should also conduct a review of Nunhead Cemetery to ascertain whether there is any scope for limited reclamation/re-use in conjunction with restoration. In addition, the Council should work in partnership with other London authorities and seek to secure alternative burial space, (potentially also including natural burial space) by way of an additional landholding.

We appreciate that this is a sensitive issue and that the land was originally purchased for use as burial plots. However, although a lot of the area had been developed by the time the New Cemetery was purchased in 1901, significant further development has gone on as evidenced by the large number of 1930's houses nearby. We must, therefore, keep the pressure on to ensure that the amenity provided by Honor Oak Rec is not lost to future generations.

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