Over the border: Bishops Stortford is running out of burial space

Politics / Sat 8th Jul 2023 at 07:06am

PARLIAMENT will run a deep-dive into disturbing human remains to make way for 4,000 new graves this week reports the Local Democracy Reporter.

Bishop’s Stortford Town Council is running out of burial space, with its Old Cemetery and New Cemetery due to fill up in around 2036.

It is an offence to disturb human remains in a cemetery but Parliament can make an exception by passing a new law.

According to East Herts Council, which is using its local authority status to promote a bill, and Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, new powers could free up thousands of graves over the next century.

But eight people whose ancestors are buried in the town want to stop the move.

A House of Lords Opposed Bill Committee will meet from Thursday, July 6 to examine the plans.

The Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Bill would give the town council powers to “extinguish rights of burial” in graves which are 75 years old or more, or which have been reserved but not used over that time.

If the council wants to use its powers, it would have to give notice of its plans for each grave, and halt the process if the registered owner objects.

A document bundle put forward by East Herts Council’s lawyers reads: “The current supply of burial space in Bishop’s Stortford is predicted to last only until the mid-late 2030s.

“The town council has already expanded the cemetery to the extent possible and has exercised the powers currently available to it to reuse existing graves.

“It has sought to acquire additional land for burials, but without success.

“The town council therefore considers that the only practical way forward to guarantee burial space in Bishop’s Stortford is to seek additional powers to reuse existing graves through a private act.”

Bishop’s Stortford Town Council began its scramble for cemetery space in 2016.

The Diocese of St Albans allowed the authority to “lift and deepen” consecrated parts of the cemetery in that year, but this only applies to “common” graves where no third-party rights of burial exist – a “relatively small number of graves” in Bishop’s Stortford.

The town council also began a “call for sites” with major landowners, but only a small plot of district council-owned land next to the cemetery was acquired in 2021.

“There is now no further land adjacent to the cemetery which could be acquired for burials,” the bundle reads.

The Lords committee will also hear that Bishop’s Stortford Town Council considered setting up a cemetery on land it owns in Little Hallingbury, in Essex.

“The entrance is directly opposite the local sewage works and is unwelcoming, barren and isolated,” the bundle notes.

“The town council, therefore, considers that it would not be possible to create the respectful and attractive approach and environment which is necessary if a cemetery is to serve its purpose as a place where the living can remember, mourn and honour their relatives, as opposed to simply being a place in which bodies are disposed.”

The councils will argue there is precedent for disturbing human remains.

Burial authorities in London already have the right to extinguish rights of burial according to a collection of laws dating back to 1969.

In 2022, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust gained legal powers to disturb human remains to create space at the famous London graveyard – where Karl Marx and novelists George Eliot and Douglas Adams are buried.

Descendants say councils are ‘plundering’ graves

Eight petitioners whose ancestors lie in the Bishop’s Stortford cemeteries have urged the Lords to stop the process.

They have questioned why the authorities cannot use “virgin bank land … coupled with other land presently owned with other areas reclaimed” to “avoid plundering graves previously purchased”.

East Herts Council’s submission sets out 257 graves could be accommodated on virgin ground, with 150 more reusable graves using current powers.

With approximately 25 graves dug per annum since 2000, the authority said the 407 spaces are “not sufficient to accommodate the need over the next generation”.

The councils’ petition response reads: “By obtaining the powers now, the burial authority will be able to plan effectively for the use of the virgin and reused consecrated and unconsecrated resources and thus ensure it is able to discharge its responsibilities in the future.”

The petitioners are related to the Careless family buried in both cemeteries and the Markwells in the Old Cemetery.

“The petitioners humbly pray that the bill may not be allowed to pass into law,” they wrote.

“Our great grandfather and great grandmother (William and Sarah Careless) are buried with all five of their children.

“His foresight offers a sense of continuity to all those that follow.

“It was not a decision he took lightly.

“He purchased the grave spaces in perpetuity when the cost was the equivalent of three weeks’ wages.

“The proposer makes no secret that by reusing the graves, they will be able to sell them and create an income stream which would avoid falling back on the rates if there are only 25 interments per year.”

In response, Bishop’s Stortford Town Council said its cemeteries are operated at an overall loss “which is borne by the taxpayer”.

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1 Comment for Over the border: Bishops Stortford is running out of burial space:

2023-07-08 14:38:37

Very sad to read and i agree with the families who are petitioning against this. Overpopulated massively.

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