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The Save Southwark Woods campaign has learned that Southwark council is planning to write off capital costs of at least £5.2M (the council’s figure), digging up over 10 acres of woodland and thousands of old graves, for 200 inner city burial plots a year.


The council says they are responding to demand by Southwark residents, but in data released by the council, a quarter to a half of those buried over the last three years appear to be from other boroughs. Are residents or even councillors aware of the gaping £5.2M hole this project would create in the council’s finances?


The £5.2M capital costs do not include the £1.1M it costs every year to run the cemetery service, which the council says it will aim to regain from burials and lease sales.


But is this £5.2M even the final figure? In six months, costs for one part of the scheme (in so-called ‘Area Z’) have already risen from £250,000 to £1.3M, an astonishing subsidy of £1,700 each for 740 burial plots.


Campaigners have repeatedly asked for a full cost benefit analysis without success, and have been forced to make a Freedom of Information request.


The council has no figures for the cost of excavating thousands of old graves, potentially in the millions. In one development recently refused permission in Guildford, the cost of exhuming 1200 graves in line with Church of England guidelines was estimated at £3.5M.


And how about the expensive new IT system the council say they require to ‘profile’ thousands of old graves for age and status? Some say this could also cost millions.


Who would benefit from such an extravagant £5.2M or more council expenditure? A few hundred Southwark (and non-Southwark) residents a year? Construction companies? Groundworks contractors? IT system designers? The undertakers and funeral directors? Who else?


Understandably, at a time of austerity and massive public spending cuts, such financial, social and environmental waste seems an irresponsible embarrassment the council would rather not publicise.


Subsidies are supposed to benefit the common good, but Southwark residents will lose over 10 acres of wild natural woodland and the social heritage of the 300,000 poor already buried in these now full cemeteries.


No council is obliged to provide burial space, let alone on inner city woodland. 9 out of 13 inner London boroughs offer out-of-borough burial. The good news is that Southwark has a far cheaper option for burial provision for all, less than 5 miles away at Kemnal Park Cemetery – for perhaps as little as half the cost – and make a 100 acre nature reserve here in Southwark into the bargain.


Tower Hamlets has already invested in burial land at Kemnal Park and last year the Diocese of Southwark erected the Monument to the Unknown Southwark Parishioner there.


Highbury Fields woods were valued in 2008 by Islington council as providing £44M a year equivalent in free services to citizens, from air pollution and cooling, to education and health.


London’s local elections are next year. SSW challenges councillors to ask for the real information – who really stands to benefit from such huge capital outlay and financial waste?

Camberwell Old Cemetery woods and graves Grade 1 SINC on Metropolitan Open Land


Southwark council admits capital costs of £5.2M for inner city burial plans will never be recouped. So who benefits?

16th June 2015