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Southwark says it is prepared to spend millions providing 4,800 burial plots within the borough, for around 200 burials a year. But they plan to do this by destroying 10 acres of valuable inner city woodland at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries at vast expense, and digging up hundreds of old graves for perhaps 20 years’ provision.
Although Southwark say the scheme is to cost £5.2M, campaigners fear the real costs could be as high as £15M, maybe more, plus annual costs of £1M a year on upkeep, a possible 20 year total cost of over £35M.
Despite requests, Southwark has yet to provide a full cost benefit audit of the scheme. So campaigners have estimated costs and revenue over 20 years themselves. In summary:
SSW Estimated Costs:
•Digging up acres of woodland and other land and possibly as many as 2,000 old graves: £9.8M
•Road building planned through woodlands and other areas, and upgrading and repairing: £2M
•Surveys, permissions and approvals form Church of England and others: £0.5M
•Consultants’ fees: £0.5M
•Community engagement to date: £1.4M
•Legal challenges from community groups and representatives, eg Judicial Review: £1M
•Annual cost of cemetery maintenance over 20 years @ £1M per year (council’s figure): £20M
•20 years estimated cost: £35.2M
SSW Estimated Revenue:
•Sale of a 25 year plot lease to a borough resident: £1,377, non-resident £4,131 (council’s figures)
•Sale of leases on 150 plots a year to residents @ £1,377: £200,550
•Sale of leases on 50 plots a year to non-residents @ £4,131: £206,550
•Potential annual revenue: £407,100
•20 years estimated revenue: £8.1M
SSW Estimated Losses:
•SSW Estimated Annual Losses: £1.3M
•SSW Estimated 20 Year Losses: £27M
If the total costs are even remotely near these figures, the scheme makes no economic sense at all. And it does not include the loss of other financial, social and environmental benefits these 10 acres of wild woodlands provide each year, such as mental and physical health benefits, improved air quality and storm water management, local business benefits etc.
Councils value woodland using systems such as the CAVAT system, or iTree. In 2008, Islington estimated that Highbury Fields woods contribute an incredible £44M to London in health, commercial, social and climate change benefits. That’s not £44M total, that’s every year.
Councillors and officers happily admit they have no idea what Southwark Woods are worth to one of the poorest and most polluted boroughs in London. But without a full cost benefit analysis of the scheme, how can Southwark justify what over 8,000 citizens now see as an incredible waste of tax payers’ money?
Southwark could follow Tower Hamlets’ example and spend their £5M budget on burial land at Kemnal Park, creating decades of burial provision But Southwark seems hell-bent on pursuing this misguided, expensive and destructive scheme, in the name of residents who have largely not been consulted about it.
London elections are coming up next year. Over 8,000 people are supporting the call to declare these cemeteries a 100 acre nature reserve. That’s more than 20 times the number who responded to Southwark’s burial strategy consultation in 2011.
But Southwark council is ploughing on regardless. Ignoring an enormous groundswell of community opposition could be risky, when Southwark has such an amazing opportunity to save millions of pounds, create burial provision at a fraction of the cost and create a wonderful 100 acre nature reserve for the benefit of generations of Londoners to come, thereby winning the support of all the citizens of Southwark.
SSW campaigners say this is a ‘no-brainer’.
Camberwell Old Cemetery woods Grade 1 SINC
Southwark to spend £35M for 4,800 burial plots worth £8M, losing £27M and destroying woods possibly worth £44M a year to London
10th June 2015