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Money, discrimination, excavation: the triple scandal at the heart of Southwark Labour’s burial plans

23 January 2016

Today, Save Southwark Woods met to lay out to Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the triple scandal at the heart of Southwark Labour’s destructive, discriminatory and wasteful burial plans:

• Religious discrimination

• No financial transparency or assessment

• Failure to consult on or even admit to families and residents plans to clear acres of woods and excavate or mound over every grave over 75 years old

Southwark Council wants to fell acres of woods and dig up or mound over every grave over 75 years old at the Camberwell Cemeteries, for NCP Carpark style burial for resale.

Save Southwark Woods wants to protect and rewild the cemeteries, with respect for the dead and their monuments and 100 acres of Nature Reserves and woods for the living.

Helen Hayes, ex-Southwark Councillor and elected MP last May, agreed to ask Southwark Council Leader Peter John for answers.

SSW also asked Ms Hayes to obtain Southwark Council’s commitment not to start work until and if it receives permission from the Church of England.

Southwark Council felled all the trees in the Camberwell Orchard – the day before the Public Meeting to discuss the site’s future.

Helen Hayes
Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

Southwark Council now appear to be preparing to start work at the Camberwell Cemeteries – before the Church has even given permision. If allowed to go ahead, these works would include clearing two acres of Grade 1 SINC habitat woods at the Old Cemetery, forever mounding over 48,000 graves of London’s poor for 740 graves, and clearing as many as 60 trees and driving a road up One Tree Hill eastern slope – for less than 8 months of private burial.

Ms Hayes also promised to ask Harriet Harman to meet SSW. Ms Harman is the constituency MP for the cemeteries – but has not yet replied to any emails or letters from Save Southwark Woods, nor responded to requests to meet – despite a petition from thousands of her constituents.

Save Southwark Woods’ letter to Helen Hayes following the meeting is below. Southwark Council Leader Peter John and the Diocese of Southwark were copied in. This email was also forwarded to Harriet Harman with a request to meet:

Dear Helen,

Meeting to discuss future of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries

Thank you for meeting us to discuss Southwark Council’s strategy for the Camberwell Cemeteries today. So many local families are horrified by the plan to dig up or mound over tens of thousands of graves for resale.

Thank you for promising to discuss the following issues with Peter John, copied:

  1. Southwark Council denying it has plans to dig up thousands of graves: Southwark’s Cemetery Strategy states categorically it prioritises excavation or mounding over every grave in the Camberwell Cemeteries over 75 years old. This would be the largest grave excavation programme in UK history. Yet as mentioned Cllr Darren Merrill in charge of the strategy stated on ITV News on 13th January: “We are not going to be digging any graves up”. When and how will Southwark be informing residents this is their aim as none of the families we have spoken to were aware of this and are truly horrified. To them, burial is sacred and rest in peace means rest in peace. One woman has 32 relatives buried there.
  2. Existing embedded religious discrimination in the borough: Orthodox Muslim residents, despite being almost half Southwark’s actual burial demand, already have to travel out of the borough for burial, while you said it would be unfair for your residents to have to travel out of the borough. This is religious discrimination. They are your residents. You therefore agreed to follow up our request for any evidence of efforts by Southwark Council to understand the borough’s full burial demand by religion, ie how many residents require burial each year, of what faiths are they and what are their burial requirements? (As discussed, this is different from asking, how many requests do Southwark receive for burial, as most don’t ask since Southwark doesn’t provide.)
  3. Lack of any evidence of ‘value for money’ assessment, the Council’s Number One Fairer Future Promise to residents: Value for money can only be evidenced by a cost benefit analysis between all burial options, including out of borough. The estimated £5M capital costs to private ground work contractors are to be just written off, whereas investing the same £5M in 8,000 interment spaces at a cemetery such as Kemnal Park would generate revenue for further burial – for all faiths – and so on. Southwark could even lay on a weekly or twice weekly bus and still save money. Thank you for agreeing to request evidence of a ‘value for money’ assessment.
  4. No works to commence prior to legal Church permissions: As discussed, the Church has yet to give its permission for works at Area Z or D1, so any works prior to permission, including clearing undergrowth (particularly valuable to the bat and hedgehog populations present) or building roads, would be illegal. We have arranged to meet the Diocese, copied in, who have promised not to make a decision before our meeting and they have anyway to go through due process with the hundreds of objections they have received to the plans, which will take time. Please obtain a commitment by the Council to respect the Church’s process, as we saw the Camberwell Orchard illegally felled – the night before the public meeting to discuss the site’s future.

Thanks again for meeting and we look forward to hearing Peter John’s response.

Best wishes

Blanche Cameron

for Save Southwark Woods

Dear Harriet Harman,

Meeting to discuss future of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries

Helen Hayes kindly met with us today to discuss the future of the Camberwell Cemeteries and burial provision for all residents. The main topics discussed are in my email below.

I am writing to request the opportunity to meet you as constituent MP for the cemeteries, as we are a group representing thousands of residents in your constituency, as well as Helen’s. You have ways said how important public consultation is to you.

When would you available to meet? We are happy to come to Westminster or your surgery. Helen mentioned she would also ask you.

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, constituency MP for the Camberwell Cemeteries

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Blanche Cameron

for Save Southwark Woods