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Today, in what is believed to be an unprecedented step, Camberwell Old Cemetery and Camberwell New Cemetery in the London Borough of Southwark were nominated as "assets of community value" to protect them from destruction by Southwark Council, who owns them.
Save Southwark Woods, a grassroots campaign formed in January 2015, has acted under the Localism Act of 2011 to protect the wild places in the two cemeteries and to promote their preservation as a nature reserve.
The council proposes to chainsaw Grade 1 woodland and bulldoze acres of historic Southwark memorials, to sell thousands of new burial plots, on a first come first served basis.
"Usually the act is used to stop private development, not to stop the council," said Save Southwark Woods spokesperson Blanche Cameron, "But we have taken this step to protect the amazing wildlife and woodlands here and the multitude of benefits they bring to the local community and South London.”
According to Save Southwark Woods, "these cemeteries are full and need to be declared nature reserves. We believe we can stop Southwark Council from destroying the natural beauty of the land and these memorials by using this legislation designed to give communities more say in what happens locally.”
The Save Southwark Woods campaign is fighting to preserve this inner London refuge of wildness and create a 100 Acre Wood, the area of these two cemeteries, to benefit South London communities into the future.
The Peckham Liberal Club and the Ivy House pub in Nunhead were both saved by communities acting through the Localism Act.
The Club was saved from sale and demolition when it was registered successfully by the Peckham Vision community group as a community asset in October 2013.
Nunhead's Ivy House was saved from closure to become London's first community-owned pub in August 2013.
Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries, as part of the Southwark Woods, are threatened by Southwark Council itself. According to legislative procedures, Southwark Council now has eight weeks to decide whether the land should be listed, effectively giving the community a say in their future, or reject the nomination, and face calls of hypocrisy and a community backlash.
In order to be listed, the land or building must further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, or have been used to do so in the recent past
This would appear to support the council’s own registration of the cemeteries as part of the South London Green Chain Walk in September 2010, which detailed the social and environmental benefit to the community of these two beautiful areas of Metropolitan Open Land.
The Save Southwark Woods campaign has offered an alternative to burial in cramped and heavily polluted inner London. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is no longer burying in their borough but has created a Tower Hamlets Memorial Park at Kemnal Park Cemetery in Bromley, less than 5 miles from these cemeteries. The Diocese of Southwark also recently created the Memorial to the Unknown Southwark parishioner there.
Southwark could follow suit, providing burial in a beautiful purpose built park, while protecting the valuable community assets of Southwark Woods for generations of Londoners to come.
Southwark Woods nominated as Asset of Community Value
14th April 2015