34 Questions for Southwark

23rd March 2015

Southwark Council Leader Peter John and Cabinet Member for the Environment Darren Merrill have agreed to meet Save Southwark Woods campaigners, to discuss alternatives to felling and clearing woodland at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries for thousands of new burial plots.

In the interests of openness and clarity, therefore, campaigners have asked Peter John to respond to 34 questions about the proposals, in advance of their meeting, as follows:

Development drivers

Q1. Can you confirm that this development is to create 6,000 burial plots, or the number intended?

Q2. What is the driver for this development? Is it driven by demand from Southwark residents for burial space within the borough of Southwark itself, or by the need to generate revenue, as stated by Cllr Vicki Mills on 16th February? Or indeed by other drivers?

Nature benefits

Q3. Camberwell Old Cemetery is a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and both cemeteries are part of the South London Green Chain Walk – these support our call for both to be declared the Local Nature Reserves that they already are. LBS proudly applied to have these two cemeteries included in the Green Chain, for the benefit they provide to residents and visitors, for nature, health, public benefit and social amenity. Please provide LBS’s application for Green Chain status for the two cemeteries.

Q4. The meeting promised by LBS for February on site with an arborist as part of the public engagement process did not materialise. Can you let us know when this will take place, or whether you have changed your minds about this?

Q5. When will LBS be carrying out a Full Habitat Survey, including a Bat survey, and a Tree survey by an independent arborist?


Q6. What is your timeline for the process – what is planned in terms of further public engagement or consultation?

Q7. What is the timeline for the implementation of your proposals? Please share your estimated timeline for implementation of each sector.

Q8. What else is due to happen prior to applying for planning permission, and when do you intend to apply for planning permission?

Q9. We note that LBS already appears to have started work at Camberwell New Cemetery on the old nursery site, piling earth on the concrete slab, presumably in preparation for the creation of the new burial plots included in your proposals. What works (standard maintenance or to do with these development proposals) are due to take place at the cemeteries from this year? Please also provide your maintenance plans under your Woodland Management Plan for the cemeteries.


Q10. What is the revenue calculated to be generated from the 6,000 (or actual number) of burial plots?

Q11. Which of the council’s budgets is this revenue to be allocated to?

Q12. Head of Public Realm Des Waters stated during our tour of the sites on 8th February that LBS have allocated £4M to invest in this development. How is this money to be spent? Where is the financing coming from – from existing LBS funds or external investment?

Q13. If it is being financed by external investment, who are the investors and on what financial basis including percentage return is the financing being provided?

Q14. How is the financing and revenue to be managed? Which department or mechanism will manage the revenue and its distribution? Is an independent company required to manage the financing and revenue?

Q15. Is an independent company being set up to manage this process and the finances involved, e.g. an investment company or subsidiary company?

Q16. What value do you estimate the cemeteries to be worth in their current state?

Q17. What value do you estimate the cemeteries to be worth, managed purely for woodland and public amenity?

Q18. What costs do you estimate for the decontamination of Area Z, after the illegal fly-tipping?

Q19. What costs do you estimate for the decontamination of Area Z, to return it to woodland and public amenity, without the costs of ground works to create new burial plots?

Q20. What ‘graves per acre’ ratio are you working to (you will be aware there are Best Practice standards for this)?

Q21. What economic value are the woodlands of both cemeteries currently valued at?

Q22. The Mayor of London’s iTree assessment of the economic, social and environmental value and contribution of London’s woodlands to London is due to report in May. Can you confirm the council will be waiting until this is published, to understand what value would be lost or gained in terms of economically valuable ecosystem services, before plans proceed to agree the felling of dozens of mature trees and clearing woodland?

Conflicts of interest

Q23. Which company/ies is/are currently contracted to carry out works for LBS at Camberwell Old and Camberwell New Cemeteries?

Q24. Can you confirm that the company LBS employed to carry out its Tree Survey is separate from any company you employ to carry out LBS tree surgery, felling work and tree maintenance?

Q25. What contribution(s), if any, has the Southwark Labour Party or central Labour Party received, financial or in kind, from undertaker companies? Please direct us to a listing of your donations and loans.

Health, equality and other social impacts

Q26. Have you carried out Equality Impact Assessment and Health Impact Assessment for the development? If so, please provide these.

Q27. How long will it take to replace the ecosystem services removed by these works?

Q28. Every time it rains heavily, the Forest Hill natural springs that flow under Camberwell Old Cemetery are forced up and flood old and new burial plots. Does this present a public health hazard? (see photos attached).

Q29. What assessments have you carried out to discover whether this presents a public health hazard?

Q30. What works are planned to mitigate this natural process?

Long-term burial, without the loss of inner city green space and with respect for the dead

The lack of inner city burial space is a London-wide problem, not specific to Southwark. As you are aware, no council has any legal obligation to provide earth burial space, let alone within its own borough boundaries. Other boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Croydon, wishing to provide burial space to their residents while preserving their valuable green spaces, are making provision for burial at private cemeteries on the edge of the city, as the Victorians did. This way they are ensuring long term burial options without the loss of inner city green space. This relates to LBS’ Cabinet decision in June 2012 to explore other options, including provision in nearby private cemeteries.

Q31. Can you confirm that you will be following the Cabinet decision of 2012 to explore other options at private cemeteries?

Q32. You stated recently on BBC London News that this was potentially only a 15-20 year solution. What plan do you have for burial provision after that?

Q33. What is your justification for piling earth on heritage and history, moving or removing gravestones, headstones and other monuments, or turning them round to be re-inscribed?

Q34. Which law or Act of Parliament needs to be altered, to allow the reuse of graves in these cemeteries?

Confusion has surrounded council proposals from the beginning.

Cllr John says the development has been driven by demand from Southwark residents for burial within the borough, but Cllr Mills stated it was to generate revenue.

Until February, the public understood 2,200 burial plots were proposed, when the council revealed they wanted 6,000, requiring development across all the beautiful Grade 1 SINC woodlands, and digging up and reusing hundreds if not thousands of existing graves.

Peter John says he wants to deliver for those most in need. Southwark is one of the poorest and most polluted boroughs in London. Air pollution is London’s biggest killer, killing more than 200 people in Southwark last year alone.

Over 1,000 residents are calling for Southwark to respect nature and the dead and declare these cemeteries nature reserves, for access to nature, for health and for the future, creating a life-giving 100 Acre Wood in central London.

Save Southwark Woods campaigners are looking forward to the council’s answers and to meeting with Cllrs Peter John, Cabinet Member for Environment Darren Merrill and others to discuss alternative proposals.