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10 reasons why Southwark’s inner city burial project is not – and never can be – viable

6th July 2016    |    [email protected]    |    @southwarkwoods    |    Facebook Page Save Southwark Woods


Today, in a letter to constituency MP Harriet Harman, the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries set out the 10 reasons why Southwark’s inner city burial project is not – and never can be – viable.


Harman has consistently ignored requests from the Friends Group and campaigners to meet over Southwark Council’s destruction of the Camberwell Cemeteries.


Now, again they are asking to meet, to stop the unnecessary, unfair and undemocratic destruction.


The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries, representing thousands of Harman's constituents, are calling on Southwark Council to stop its destruction of acres of inner city woods and graves for re-sale as ‘new’ burial plots. They want  the Cemeteries declared Nature Reserves with respect for the dead buried there and woods, meadows and green spaces for the living.


But for 18 months, the former acting Leader of the Labour Party has ignored requests to meet.


“Why is Harriet Harman ignoring thousands of her own constituents?” asked Blanche Cameron of the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries.


“Is it because in fact she actively supports Southwark Council’s actions to mound over and eventually excavate all graves, no matter what trees are in the way? Was she not the major political sponsor in the mid-2000s of retrospectively cancelling citizens’ right to burial in perpetuity, allowing old graves to be dug up, and championing it through parliament as then Minister for Justice?


“There has been no Borough-wide public consultation, no Environmental Impact Assessment, no Asset Value Impact Assessment, no Burial Needs Assessment, no consultation of families. Thousands of residents object.


“Southwark has no public mandate to destroy inner city woods, graves and heritage. And nor is there any public outcry demanding inner city burial. It is just not viable for so many reasons – but only the politicians seem unaware.”


In January, Helen Hayes Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood met with campaigners, although she did nothing subsequently to stop Southwark Council in February felling two acres of woods without Church permission and against over 2,500   written objections from residents.


Vicky Foxcroft Labour MP for Lewisham and Deptford has now agreed to meet the Friends Group on 29th July. But the silence from Harriet Harman’s office remains deafening.


“We’ll be glad to meet Vicky Foxcroft,” said Blanche Cameron, “We have also asked to meet Neil Coyle MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark.


“But this is Harriet Harman’s constituency. We just don’t understand why she has refused to respond to emails, let alone meet. Inner city burial in Southwark is not viable. The destruction won’t achieve its supposed aim and is already having disastrous impacts. Fair burial provision is available now for ALL residents – at a fraction of the environmental, financial and social cost.”


Southwark is a test case for all UK cemeteries. But the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries are finding that inner city burial can never be viable, for many reasons.


Today, in a letter to Harriet Harman along with another request to meet, the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries set out the 10 reasons why Southwark’s misguided and unjustified inner city burial project is not – and never can be – viable.


What action will Ms Harman take to stop the unfair, unnecessary and undemocratic destruction. Will she now require Southwark Council to provide a burial service that does not impinge on residents’ rights to health and well-being, access to nature or on religious obligations?


6th July 2016


Dear Harriet Harman,


10 reasons why Southwark’s inner city burial plans are not – and never can be – viable


1.  Deforestation of inner London borough's woods and trees:

Three acres of woods already felled 2013-2016, 10 more acres to go, thousands of trees. Destruction of natural vital benefits from inner city woods – access to nature, clean air, flood prevention, health benefits and more.


2.  Destruction of history and heritage:

Desecrating Southwark graves, removing memorials and gravestones, mounding over tens of thousands of dead, including Commonwealth War Graves, planned excavation of all private graves over 75 years.


3.  Tiny local 2011 'consultation' used to justify massive, destructive, Borough-wide Cemetery Strategy:

Southwark used 2011 local 'consultation' on threat to take Honor Oak Recreation Ground for burial plots as public mandate for Borough-wide destructive Cemetery Strategy 'built' off the back of its skewed results. Survey did not once mention the word 'tree', the term 'reuse' of graves never explained, families not consulted, 60% of survey respondents from Lewisham.


4.  No Borough-wide Burial Consultation or Burial Strategy, only a Cemetery Strategy:

Borough-wide Burial Consultation and Burial Strategy would have required full and proper Public Consultation of all faiths, to provide a fair burial service for residents’ needs and religious obligations. Southwark’s Cemetery Strategy does not provide a fair burial service, discriminating against people’s racial and religious rights.


5.  No consultation of residents and families:

This is a test case for ‘reuse’ of graves in all UK municipal cemeteries. Full consultation of residents and families was a Home Office requirement when testing the legislation change, to see if 'reuse' – digging up families’ graves – was even acceptable, let alone socially, environmentally or financially viable. This has never been done and families are very angry. A local survey has found over 90% of families asked so far are against ‘reuse’.


6.  Potential fraudulent mis-selling of burial plot leases:

Burial over the dead is against many residents' religious obligations. No information published on relevant area of Southwark’s website that plots being sold now are over the dead. Refusal by Councillors of repeated requests to publish the information on relevant area of Southwark website and related documents, to guarantee plot purchasers are informed that burial plots they are burying are over the dead – before they decide whether to buy or go elsewhere.


7.  Democratic rights of residents denied:

No Burial Needs Assessment; no consultation of families on the proposed digging up of graves; no feasibility study prior to adoption of Cemetery Strategy, to justify destruction; no triple bottom line Asset Value Impact Assessment on value to the community; no Environmental Impact Assessment; no CAVAT or iTree assessment on value of trees cut down; Duty to Consult not met; no social, environmental or financial justification of the strategy, no public mandate. Undemocratic process, trust and confidence eroded, rights denied.


8.  Impossible to provide fair burial service in Southwark's cemeteries:

Under statutory duties a borough burial service must be provided fairly, proportionately reflecting residents’ burial needs and religious obligations. Many residents cannot be buried over the dead for religious reasons and are already buried privately out of borough. Southwark’s Cemetery Strategy to mound over the dead can NEVER provide a fair burial service for ALL residents. If Southwark is to provide a burial service, alternative provision fair to ALL residents must be made that does not impinge either on residents' rights to clean air and healthy living, or religious obligations.


9.  No public mandate: Thousands of residents have made their objection to Southwark’s destruction of the Cemeteries clear through a petition from over 8,000 to Council Assembly in July 2015, and literally thousands of objection letters to planning applications, the Church of England,  MPs, the Mayor of London and others. This is the public mandate – not the 5 year old 2011 tiny local ‘consultation’ on whether Honor Oak Rec should be dug up for burial.


10.  Fair burial provision for residents of ALL faiths is available now without destruction and at fraction of cost: 

9 out of 13 inner London boroughs provide burial outside borough boundaries: to preserve inner city biodiversity, woods, trees, green spaces, history and heritage, for climate change adaptation, access to nature, history, health, clean air etc. In January 2015, Tower Hamlets invested £3M in 3 acres of multifaith burial space at Kemnal Park Cemetery, closer to Southwark than to Tower Hamlets. Kemnal Park has over 35 acres available for fair burial provision with economies of scale depending on area of land leased.


Please, for the above reasons, we ask you again will you meet with us as the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries representing thousands of your constituents, who are calling for the Camberwell Cemeteries to be declared Nature Reserves?


We look forward to your response.




Blanche Cameron


Chair, Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries

The Save Southwark Woods Campaign



Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Helen Hayes MP

Neil Coyle MP

Vicky Foxcroft MP

Jim Dowd MP





In a nutshell: Trees, woods and green spaces too valuable to be used for burial plots - we need more not less, for health and well-being and climate change adaptation; Burial over the dead not an option for many - discriminates against many residents' burial needs, plot buyers not being told; history and heritage of those buried and their families must be respected and preserved; fair burial provision is already available at a fraction of the environmental, financial and social cost.