SSW has reprinted Southwark Council's frequently asked questions with our own responses.
Please contact us at any time for more information:
I heard that you are cutting down 12 acres of woodland, is this true?
LONDON BOROUGH OF SOUTHWARK (LBS): No. The Council are not cutting down 12 acres of woodland and any such claims are untrue. Currently we only have two projects that are agreed for implementation that impact upon wooded areas:
Area Z and Underhill Boundary improvements works at Camberwell Old Cemetery:
• The entire area of both sites is 3.12 acres but, by no means, is all of this covered in trees
• We plan to remove 19 significant trees in total
Area D1 at Camberwell New Cemetery:
• The entire area of site is 0.54 acres and, again, not all of this is covered in trees
• We plan to remove 26 trees
• Following redevelopment of the site we intend to plant, at least, 25 new trees
SAVE SOUTHWARK WOODS (SSW): The Council pretends its own Cemetery Strategy doesn't exist. The project involves clearing around 12 acres of woodland in Camberwell Old Cemetery (Area Z, H1, H2, J, K and L) and half an acre on historic One Tree Hill (Area D1) in the New Cemetery on Brenchley Gardens. They have just cleared the first 2 acres Area Z in Camberwell Old Cemetery. 10 more are still to come.
What are the plans for Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries?
LBS: Our plans for the cemeteries are to put in place a sustainable service that meets the current and future needs of the people of Southwark for burial space while at the same time creating beautiful and restful places that can be used for leisure as well as a respectful place for the deceased.
As part of the plans, the council will be creating a new burial area on the large disused concreted area in Camberwell New cemetery near to Honor Oak Station and treating and clearing a fenced off area in Camberwell Old Cemetery which was used as an illegal dumping site.
SSW: Southwark Council has started the largest ever UK project to excavate all private graves over 75 years old and mound over all public graves at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries, a total of 102 acres.
These cemeteries are full. In June 2012, Southwark decided to mound over and excavate all public and private graves and remove all the old headstones and memorials for ‘new’ burial plots. Their project does not cater for all faiths and is discriminatory.
Why are you doing work without permission from the Church / Diocese of Southwark
LBS: We are doing everything we can to keep our projects on track, so that we don’t run out of burial space. Currently, we are carrying out works that do not require a faculty permission, whilst we await a decision by the Diocese of Southwark. All works are in line with the planning permission granted and have been discussed with the Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark Council.
SSW: Southwark Council has no permission from the Church to cut down the hundreds of trees felled over 75mm girth/circumference. In fact, the Church's Consistory Court is holding a hearing into the Council's plans in May/June, because of more than 800 objections to the plans.
The Council asked the Diocese for early go-ahead for tree felling and 'opening up existing paths' ie laying their roads. The Diocese asked for more information. The Council did not reply. Instead they then claimed to have the go-ahead from the Diocese and at the beginning of February 2016 cleared 2 acres of woods and hundreds of trees across consecrated and unconsecrated ground.
Their rush was to get in before the official start of the nesting season on 1st March, but green woodpeckers and others had already started nesting.
Does the council have to provide burial space? Do we really need more?
LBS: Burial space in Southwark will run out sometime in early to mid-2017 if the council takes no action. There is no legal requirement for Southwark Council to provide more burial space but it is a valued service that the council has chosen to continue to provide. Southwark is home to many communities for whom burial is the only acceptable option. The council is obligated to respect their religious and cultural beliefs and continue to make burial an option for these communities.
SSW: Correct. The Council is under no legal obligation to provide burial, let alone in inner London.
The Council’s burial projects do NOT provide for all faith communities. The Council does not provide any burial at all for one of the largest of its resident communities who require burial by faith - Orthodox Muslim residents, who are over 40% of the Borough’s burial demand. Furthermore, the are slashing budgets to other services while ploughing millions into a subsidised discriminatory burial service.
Why don’t you bury people outside the borough?
LBS: The option to bury residents outside of the borough received very little support in the 2011 public consultation. Not only would it be expensive, it would also be unfair to expect residents to travel outside the borough to visit the graves of their loved ones.
Furthermore, the Mayor of London’s ‘London Plan’ urges councils to ensure that provision is made for London’s burial needs, including the needs of groups for whom burial is the only option and that such provision should be based on the principle of proximity to local communities and reflect the different requirements for types of provision.
SSW: In fact the 2011 Consultation found that 52% of respondents did not feel it was important for Southwark Council to continue to provide burial space. And 51% of respondents were not against providing burial outside the borough.
9 out of 13 inner London boroughs now provide burial outside their boroughs.
We are not ‘running out of burial space’. Councils such as Tower Hamlets are buying burial space for all faiths at cemeteries such as Kemnal Park Cemetery where plenty of space is available for all faiths.
The 2011 Consultation included burial options not fully pursued, including buying land for burial at Kemnal Park Cemetery.
Southwark's 'super cemeteries' project will not provide burial for all faiths either.
What happens when we run out of the burial spaces again?
LBS: Once the proposed works are delivered there will be no need to develop any further land for burial. The council’s cemetery strategy prioritises the re-use and reclamation of public and private graves (the law states that graves older than 75 years could be re-used for burial). Based on current demand for burials in Southwark, once the proposed developments are complete the council may consider providing burial space sustainably through rotating cemetery areas available for re-use.
SSW: This destruction will not provide burial for all the Council's burial needs - it specifically excludes Orthodox Jews and very considerable Orthodox Muslim resident communities.
Space is available at other cemeteries for all faiths and for less money without destroying environment, graves and historical heritage along with their benefits.
The Council’s ‘re-use’ project means stripping monuments, and digging up the remains of the dead who were laid to rest forever. By ‘reclamation’ the Council means stripping the ground of trees and woodland and mounding over tens of thousands of dead in public (‘pauper’s’) graves for new plots.
Southwark Council does not even have permission to excavate graves for re-use at present. It will require an Act of Parliament to change the law for them to do it.
What have you done to consult with local people?
LBS: A widely publicised consultation took place in 2011 to consider future plans for burial provision.
In 2015, the local community was given the opportunity to review the plans for the cemeteries and contribute any feedback. This was followed up with a public meeting in February to address environmental concerns and hear again from the community. Engagement will continue throughout the entire process. Further engagement activities will be taken through the stakeholder group
SSW: There has been no proper consultation for this project. The 2011 consultation focused on turning Honor Oak Recreation Ground sports fields into burial space. There was no detail on cutting down 12 acres of woods or mounding over the graves tens of thousands of local people in public graves nor excavating every grave over 75 years old for new private plots.
Requests from the so-called ‘Stakeholder Group’, of which SSW is a member, are consistently ignored including repeated requests for information and exploration of alternatives.
The Council Assembly on 8th July 2105 rejected a public petition to stop the project - signed by over 3,500 Southwark residents, over 1,000 of whom are from Peckham Rye Ward where the cemeteries are.
Why can’t the cemeteries be turned into local Nature Reserves, as with Nunhead Cemetery?
LBS: A full review of parks and open spaces was undertaken for the 2013 Open Space Strategy which feeds into the Southwark Plan. The strategy was subject to extensive consultation and identified the need to use the existing cemeteries for burial space. Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries are Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs). The SINC status will be maintained following the proposed developments.
The designation of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries as Local Nature Reserves would be impractical in light of our need to use these sites as active cemeteries. This is because the main rational for declaring an LNR is to protect an area for the primary purpose of conservation of wildlife and biodiversity not for active cemetery use.
SSW: Southwark can of course declare them the Nature Reserves they already are. But to do this the Council would have to stop destroying rare city habitats, cutting down the woods and trees, digging up the graves and stop the mowing.
As Nature Reserves, the Camberwell Cemeteries could create 100 acres of nature and history, with health and climate change adaptation benefits, making the area a destination for visitors, as Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries have shown.
How many burial spaces are you creating?
LBS: A maximum of 4865 plots will be created by the proposals that are detailed in the Cemetery Strategy. Once these are complete re-use may be an option so that we can provide a sustainable burial service in Southwark.
SSW: The ‘4865’ can only be created by cutting down twelve (12) acres of SINC woods and mounding over the public graves of local people.
Starting in 2022, the Council, pending permission, will start digging up private graves for re-use, making a super cemetery with an unlimited supply of burial.
An Act of Parliament is required to allow Southwark to excavate private graves, the justification for their whole project. For now, Southwark has to say it ‘may be an option’.
Will there be any trees lost?
LBS: Yes, there will be some trees lost but the number is being kept to a minimum. Please see the individual project pages for details on removals and replacements.
The council has worked with the London Wildlife Trust to ensure that as many mature trees as possible are kept and the character of the cemetery will remain.
SSW: Hundreds of trees are to be felled. The result is devastation for nature and for people.
Southwark Council has tried to claim a tree is only 150mm girth and over, but they have not even counted all of these trees, let alone the hundreds of trees at Forestry Commission definition of 75mm girth.
When Southwark Tree Officer Gary Meadowcroft was asked how many trees were to go, and why weren’t they drawn on the Council’s maps, he said there were ‘too many to count’ (at Southwark’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 17th September 2015).
What about existing biodiversity?
LBS: We are confident the plans for the cemeteries will not just preserve but enhance the existing biodiversity and ecology of the area and increase the amount of open space for residents to enjoy.
As ‘Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation’ (SINC) the Council is required to carefully consider the ecological impact of any plans.
•We will be undertaking woodland management
•There will be large areas of coppice habitat (currently a rarity in the borough)
•There will be a continuous boundary of native hedging/other planting providing a buffer and wildlife corridor
•With the clearance we will create opportunities for woodland ground flora to flourish this will be an important habitat
•The new meadows are a Biodiversity Action Plan target habitat and will create important new habitat
Overall the diversity of habitats (a mosaic of habitats) will mean that the site will be more ecologically valuable than it is now.
SSW: The site is already a wonderful rich mosaic of different wildlife habitats - woods, thickets, meadows, glades and rides full of life.
The project is cutting down hundreds of trees, with two known bat colonies, scraping the earth clean of undergrowth that is vital nesting and foraging habitat, putting in 700 graves surrounded by mown grass.
To say this will increase ecological value is laughable. The London Wildlife Trust have sanctioned Southwark’s project but SSW believes this says more about LWT than habitat protection.
Are you [Southwark Council] 'selling off' the cemeteries?
LBS: Absolutely not. The land will continue to be owned and managed by Southwark Council. It is the case that we charge residents a fee for a fifty year lease on their family graves. The income from these fees contributes directly to the upkeep of all Southwark’s cemeteries.
SSW: Southwark isn’t selling off the cemeteries. They are selling off burial leases one plot at at time. Is this really for just a few hundred burials a year to local residents?
Just as Council Leader Peter John has sold off social housing estates, his ‘super cemeteries’ project intends selling burial plots to whoever can afford them across London.
Peter John stated on BBC London Radio “if we start reusing grave space as other cemeteries are doing, you know this is potentially a long-term answer to the problem of London running out of grave space.” (24th February 2015)
Isn’t this all because you lost the court case on illegal dumping?
LBS: No. The Council won all its legal actions in relation to the dumping. The land in the Old Cemetery has always been designated for use as a cemetery and we always planned to develop it for this purpose. It is the case that we are obligated to remediate the area where illegal dumping took place (remove and replace topsoil). Therefore it makes sense to create burial space at the same time as carrying out the remediation so that costs and disturbances to residents are kept to a minimum.
SSW: Parks Manager Rebecca Towers stated at the planning committee on 5th October 2015 that this approach is only needed because the Council want to put in burial space.
The land in question is not ‘a toxic dump’ as Council Leader Peter John has repeatedly claimed. Their own planning application did not list one single toxic or hazardous substance in the box provided. Out of 60 test pits across the site, only one small area had any remains of pollutants including asbestos. This is currently low risk and could easily be covered over with clay without destroying acres of natural habitat.
The mass removal of 12,000 tonnes of soil and rubble is entirely unnecessary, at huge public cost, with air and noise pollution, and up to 25 truckloads a day to and from the site for months.
Read Southwark Council's own planning application for Area Z
Won’t the new graves simply create a stale and sanitised area?
LBS: No. Our intention is to create a space where burials can take place that also retains the ‘wild’ character so admired by local residents. We want to create a space where biodiversity can flourish. A space local people will want to return to time and again, whether it is to visit their loved ones or simply to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.
SSW: Clearing a Grade 1 SINC woodland for a working cemetery cannot retain ‘the ‘wild’ character so admired by local residents’ as the Council claim. Wild bat roosts are already being replaced with standard bat boxes. See the image on the right of what is proposed - you can judge for yourself.
Your burial plans are discriminatory. They don’t allow for Muslim or Jewish burial?
LBS: Southwark currently has a segregated space for Muslim burial in Nunhead Cemetery. There are around 60 spaces remaining and based on current provision of the last 3 years we expect the current provision to last for another 8 years. Even if demand were to increase, this would still amount to between 4-6 years of burial space. As such current provision does not discriminate against Southwark’s Muslim Community.
Southwark does not have a segregated space for Jewish burial. However, any residents, irrespective of any religious preferences, are welcome to use our cemeteries. In addition to dedicated areas for Muslim burial we also have plots located on un-consecrated land for multi-faith burial. As such Jewish residents are welcome to use our cemeteries and Southwark has already had 2 Jewish burials in the last 3 years.
The burial strategy is likely to offer benefits to some religious or faith groups for whom burial is required. This will support equality of choice and the freedom to practice religion.
SSW: The Council’s burial projects ARE discriminatory. Southwark Council do NOT provide burial for all faith communities even at the moment. A handful of burials a year are provided for for Turkish Muslim residents at Nunhead Cemetery, but these are a very small proportion of Southwark Muslim residents.
The Council does not provide ANY BURIAL AT ALL for Orthodox Muslim residents, who are over 40% of the Borough’s burial demand, one of its largest communities requiring burial by faith. Nor does the Council provide dedicated burial for Orthodox Jews.
Furthermore, people of many faiths cannot or do not wish to be buried over the remains of the dead of other families. Almost all ‘new’ burial plots in the cemeteries are over other dead people, including those being sold right now on the Woodvale boundary in Camberwell Old Cemetery.
In addition, many faiths need to be buried in earth. People buried in the 740 plots on Area Z will be covered in crushed building demolition rubble - from the illegal dumping.
The Council is ploughing millions into a subsidised burial service for a small proportion of those seeking burial and with no respect for the needs of its wide range of religious communities, even at the moment. The project does not change this discrimination.
Will I have to pay to protect my buried relatives from being excavated?
SSW: We do not know. It is very likely however that you will be offered the opportunity to buy a lease at the current rate - or discount rate - £1,200 for 25 or £2,065 for 50 year lease.
What will happen to the gravestones?
SSW: We do not know. The Council has stated it intends to store the monuments for three to six months, then throw them out if unclaimed. Or you can pay to have the gravestone turned around and inscribed on the other side with your loved one’s inscription.
I have heard the Camberwell Cemeteries are only 58 acres not 100 acres as you say.
SSW: Camberwell Old Cemetery (Woodvale) is 30 acres, Camberwell New Cemetery (Brenchley Gardens) is 72 acres, including Honor Oak Recreation Ground, making a total of 102 acres.
Does Save Southwark Woods want the Council to take the Rec Ground and the Allotments instead of the woods?
SSW: No. The playing fields and allotments must be protected too. The site of the Old Nursery (Area B) in the New Cemetery was promised as community use, but then the promise withdrawn. Now it is planned for burial space too.
Why didn’t Friends of One Tree Hill Nature Reserve or Friends of Nunhead Cemetery object to the Council’s plans?
SSW: The Friends of One Tree Hill Nature Reserve did respond to the Council’s proposals suggesting improvements to habitat management. But they supported the Council’s proposal to fell a something oak as non native species, and did not object to the felling of a minimum of 22 native broadleaf woodland trees including 8 oaks. FOTH merely requested that, once felled, the logs be donated to the Nature Reserve.
Why is the London Wildlife Trust supporting the Council?
SSW: We don’t know. This project is destructive to nature replacing rarest of London habitats, wild woods, with sanitised lawned cemeteries with NCP Carpark-style burial plots crammed in cheek by jowl, as they are on Woodvale already. In no way can it be considered to improve the habitat or biodiversity.
Why can’t they coppice the trees? What is coppicing? It sounds nice.
SSW: Coppicing is an old woodcraft method of managing woods for needed products such as charcoal, wattle for wattle and daub, and so on. It can be a useful technique in woodland management in some situations. However, this is not one of them. The Council are using the term wrongly. They have used ‘coppicing’ to mean felling 90% of the trees and clearing the woodland habitat to ground level.
Why do you call it the Southwark Woods?
SSW: It was suggested we call it “Save Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries Woods” but that’s a mouthful. And the cemeteries are not in Camberwell anyway. These cemeteries were Common Land until relatively recently and are, after all, land only held in trust by the Council, for the people. And not for one political party to profit from. And they are the woods of Southwark!
Where is Southwark Woods?
SSW: Camberwell Old Cemetery lies between Forest Hill Road, Woodvale, Underhill Road and Ryedale Road and its postcode is SE22 0RU. Camberwell New Cemetery sits between Brenchley Gardens and Honor Oak Station SE23 3RD.
They’re cemeteries, for goodness’ sake. They’ve always been cemeteries.
SSW: They have only been cemeteries for 150 or less. Before that one was a golf course. Before that fields and before that, the northern end of the Great North Wood.
The cemeteries are full and the needs of residents and cities change. They don’t still hang people in Tyburn, the Tate is not a power station, and David Beckham doesn’t play football anymore.
Don’t we have enough wild woods around here - Nunhead Cemetery and Sydenham Woods, to name two?
SSW: London has illegal levels of air pollution, with 10,000 Londoners die early each year from air pollution related diseases. It is appalling that Southwark Council to be felling hundreds of trees.
These woods are on Metropolitan Open land and are SINC woods on the South London Green Chain Walk. Cutting them down sets a principle that no green space is protected. It is also recognised that children need access to wild nature not just manicured parks, to develop vital mental, physical and emotional health.
Southwark is becoming highly developed with thousands of new flats in Elephant, Borough and Bankside going up without even a balcony. For all these reasons surely we need more wild woods not less.
Why are tree lovers Save Southwark Woods now focusing on graves and caring about the families of people buried here?
SSW: We have always always supported the preservation and protection of the graves as well as the trees and nature - our motto is ‘respect for the dead and woods for the living’.
Isn’t Save Southwark Woods people a bunch of crusties from outside the area?
SSW: Yes. We have tremendous support in the rest of Southwark and outside the Borough. They don’t want to lose the beauty or our homes at greater risk of flooding. We all see the value in nature.
Aren’t you just a bunch of NIMBYs?
SSW: Yes, We have tremendous support from people who live near the Cemeteries and don’t want to lose the beauty or our homes at greater risk of flooding. They see the value in nature. But we are London’s back yard and these woods are part of the lungs of London. So we are also YIMBYs - Yes In My Back Yard - to woods, nature and history of immense value to London as a whole.
The woods are already cut down, what are you still fighting for?
SSW: We have lost two acres of trees - but they haven’t buried anyone yet, so the trees could grow back. And there are still almost 10 acres left. And We are fighting for something even greater. Creating a 100 Acre Wood, rewilding cemeteries to preserve the beauty and the heritage.
Isn’t this party political? Why are you harping on about the Labour Party.
SSW: No. SSW has sought and gained cross-party political support - even ex-Labour Deputy Leader and local MP Harriet Harman wrote to Southwark Council to stop work and commission an independent survey on flood risk from the felling of hundreds of trees. But Southwark Council is a majority controlled Labour Council, with 43 Labour, 13 Liberal Democrat and 2 Conservative Councillors. The Liberal Democrat Group oppose the project and support SSW. The Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee charged with investigating Council projects, is run by Labour Councillor Gavin Edwards who voted against any scrutiny of this project.
After the Camberwell Cemeteries are declared Nature Reserves:
Does Save Southwark Woods want to stop me from using the plots I have already bought when the cemeteries become Nature Reserves?
SSW: No SSW supports use of remaining spaces in existing burial plots. SSW is against the Council’s project to create new burial as it would mean destroying valuable woods and natural habitat, and tens of thousands of existing families’ graves along with their memorials.
Does Save Southwark Woods want to stop me from maintaining my Gran’s grave when the cemeteries become Nature Reserves?
SSW: No absolutely not. We want to protect and preserve the graves of all those buried in the Camberwell Cemeteries for the relatives and their history and heritage. If the Council’s project goes on, all private graves over 75 years old will be destroyed and new headstones put up.
My grandad is buried in a public grave. Will I have the right to stop them mounding him over to sell for ‘new’ private burial plots?
SSW: Unfortunately, if your relative is buried in a public grave, the Council doesn’t even have to notify you, let alone ask your permission. Southwark Council has already mounded over tens of thousands of public graves (and cut down an ancient hawthorn hedgerow and meadows) on the Woodvale boundary for new burial plots. Area Z contains the public graves of 48,000 people. The Council intends to mound over every public grave in the cemeteries.
Are people told they will be buried on top of the bodies of other dead?
SSW: We don’t know. It is not on the Council website. It might not occur to most people that that is what they are buying. We suggest you contact Councillor Darren Merrill who is leading the project:
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