BBC Local Radio survey reveals extent of England’s grave shortage
Experts are warning of a looming crisis across England as a new report reveals that the country is rapidly running out of space to bury people.
According to a BBC Local Radio survey, a quarter of burial authorities will run out space in 10 years or less; nearly half (44 per cent) in 20 years or less and some areas have already completely run out of space - with others set to run out in less than three years.
The head of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematoria Management, Tim Morris, said: “This is a seriously worrying situation. We are heading towards many burial grounds becoming full. There is nowhere for the bereaved people who prefer burial to bury their dead. It’s a serious situation that really needs tackling now - it’s been around for a long time, knowledge of this problem, and government inaction over the last couple of decades has led us to a looming crisis in our burial grounds.”
BBC Local Radio surveyed 700 burial authorities across England - of which 358 responded. The study shows what the experts have feared for some time and confirms the extent of the problem.
Both Tim and fellow expert Dr Julie Rugg, from the Cemetery Research Group at the University of York, believe there should be a change in law on re-using space - which many believe is the only way to solve the problem.
Dr Rugg says: "This survey clearly shows that the situation is absolutely desperate across the whole country. It’s not just a London or a big town problem. Even small parish councils are wondering how they are going to cope when land runs out. I’d be very surprised if, after this, the government still maintains that there’s no evidence of a problem.
“Families want to be buried together, but there’s no guarantee that burial will remain local, or even available at all in some areas.”
However an MoJ spokesperson said: "Any changes in the way in which graves and cemeteries might be managed need to be considered carefully and sensitively. We keep this area under constant review and no decisions have yet been taken.”
The BBC spoke to councils around the country to hear their concerns.
Bicester in Oxfordshire is a town which is due to double in size in the next decade - but where the cemetery is nearly out of room.
Cemetery manager Chris Johnson, said: “The situation is critical now - we’re getting to two years of burials remaining so we are desperate to find other means - other land for a new cemetery ground.”
The cemetery is so full the council are looking at options such as using a small verge on the side of a path and moving a memorial bench to create more spaces.
Other cemeteries across England are using their car parks, pathways or putting in extra topsoil to create more burial space.
The City of London Cemetery - owned by the City of London Corporation – is the only place in the country planning to re-use grave space under a 2007 law which only applies to London.
That law will allow them to “lift and deepen” graves – that means digging up remains in graves more than 75 years old, burying them deeper and creating new graves on top.
Gary Burks, the superintendent of the City of London cemetery, believes re-use will become acceptable to the public.
He said: “It is an emotional issue for some people but I don’t know if it’s a more perceived than an actual one because my experience is that faced with the pragmatic choice of choosing a grave in an area nearby that has been used before - or travelling 30 miles to somewhere where there’s an opportunity for a virgin soil grave, they would probably choose the most pragmatic choice"
A full report on the grave crisis can be heard across all BBC Local Radio stations on Breakfast and Mid Morning programmes on Friday 27 September. Full details of the BBC study and a breakdown by burial authority can be found at bbc.co.uk.
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