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Southwark Council's planning committee tonight is set to pass plans that would create huge religious discrimination across the borough, as well as destroying nature and social heritage.
Southwark Council states: “We aim to ensure that people who have died in Southwark can be buried or cremated within the borough.”
But the council doesn’t even provide equal burial for all residents at the moment. The council subsidises burial for Christians, atheists and others, but expects Orthodox Muslims and Jews – almost half of those who bury their dead – to pay privately for their own.
Although Orthodox Jewish and Muslim residents are only about 10% of Southwark's residents, they are at least 40% of the people who choose burial over cremation, in accordance with religious practice.
£5M plans to destroy acres of Grade 1 SINC woods and old graves go before Southwark's Planning Committee tonight, for less than 4 years of burial inaccessible to Orthodox Jewish or Muslim residents.
If the Planning Committee, chaired by Labour Councillor Nick Dolezal, passes these plans, the council will be reinforcing and extending the council's religious discrimination.
Southwark’s 4 year old Burial Strategy Equality Impact Assessment from 2012 demonstrates this discrimination clearly:
“The shortage of burial space has meant that cemetery space allocated for Muslim burials has been exhausted. This means that residents observing Islamic funeral rites and requiring graves prepared in adherence to Islamic law, must seek internment [sic] outside of the borough.”
These actions by the council breaks the Human Rights Act 1998 and Southwark Council's own Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010. This says all public services should be available without discrimination or disadvantage on grounds of race or religion.
However, for some reason, Southwark's planning officer brazenly states in his report that:
"In line with the Council's Community Impact Statement the impact of this application has been assessed as part of the application process with regard to local people in respect of their age, disability, faith/religion, gender, race and ethnicity and sexual orientation. Consultation with the community has been undertaken as part of the application process.
"Other than the issue access for people for mobility imparements [sic] discussed above, no adverse impacts are expected as a result of this scheme."
This is blatantly untrue - the human right of Southwark residents to practice their religion without discrimination or disadvantage is denied - and the worst thing is Southwark Council knows it.
On 1st June, Save Southwark Woods raised this issue with Council Leader Peter John (see SSW News 1st June: Peter John, will your £5M plan create graves accessible to Southwark residents of all faiths seeking burial?)
The silence from Peter John then was deafening.
Now we have a statement from the council that is blatantly untrue.
The council’s £5.2M budget would pay for over 20 years of multifaith burial provision in cemeteries out of the borough, where Muslim and Jewish residents are already forced to go.
Or £5.2M would pay to chop down acres of Grade 1 SINC woods and trees for a measly four years of burial with a massive discriminatory subsidy of £6,000 per burial plot - but only for the faiths that can use them.
Save Southwark Woods will be making a public statement at the planning meeting tonight - will Southwark stop in time and turn down these plans?
Or will they continue to encourage and promote religious discrimination in the borough?
Southwark Council set to approve plans tonight for
6th October 2015
The Equality Act 2010 has a Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This consists of a “general duty” and a number of “specific duties”, which set out in more detail what the Council is expected to do to meet the “general duty”.
“Humans Rights Act 1998
As a council, we will believe that citizens can become stronger through the practice and respect of human rights with the belief that all citizens in Southwark are treated with fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy. The Humans Rights Act 1998 aims to give greater effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). We will comply with the Human Rights Act when providing services or making decisions.”
Percentage of burial provision for Orthodox Muslim or Jewish residents in Southwark Council's new multimillion pound burial spending plans?
Illustrations are based on figures from 2011 Population Census and Southwark's own public consultation 2011-2012