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Questions into the Burial Service Southwark Council won’t answer

28 March 2017

Today, the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries has published a list of questions into the operations of Southwark Council’s Burial Service.

Southwark’s Burial Service has been mired in secrecy and controversy for over five years, as it relentlessly pursues its 2012 Burial Strategy to dig up thousands of graves at the Camberwell Cemeteries for resale – so-called ‘re-use’.

Freedom of Information requests on finances remain unanswered, repeated requests for site inspections are refused and local MP Harriet Harman has ignored over a hundred emails and requests to meet.

London’s deadly air pollution kills 10,000 a year. Trees remove 20% of air pollution.

Yet, the Mayor of London, MPs and the Church of England are aiding and abetting Southwark to get away with environmental murder.

With their support, two acres of inner city woods have been felled and Woodland Tree Preservation Orders on a further ten acres cancelled – to bury the dead.

Why is Southwark being allowed – helped – to get away with it?

Burial is big business in the UK. The destruction of old cemeteries for profit quietly became law when the 2007 Local Authorities Act – championed by Harriet Harman – allowed cemetery owners to apply for permission to dig up the dead.

Private and municipal cemetery owners all over the country are waiting for the Southwark precedent.

Against a manufactured backdrop of ‘permanent burial crisis’ Southwark’s aim is to establish a ‘worst-case’ scenario.

Inner-city cemeteries are invaluable nature reserves and living libraries of family history.

If Southwark can ignore thousands of residents and destroy inner-city woods and graves for burial plots on the spurious premise of ‘local burial for local people’, so can anyone else.

Tonight’s Cemetery Stakeholder Meeting has been cancelled at the last minute.

The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries’ questions are below – each would merit a full inquiry on its own.  

Questions into the operation of Southwark Council’s Burial Service and Freedom of Information requests


Q1. Please explain why annual accounts for the last ten years of Southwark’s Burial and Cremation Service operations have not been provided, despite repeated requests?

FOI Request: Please provide annual accounts for the last ten years of Southwark’s Burial and Cremation Service operations, including all expenditure and receipts delivering the 2012 Burial Strategy.


Q2. Why did Southwark Council fail to provide the Diocese of Southwark and the public with information on all trees to be felled of 75mm diameter or more measured at 1.5m off the ground in accordance with Church Faculty Rules, when applying for permission called Faculty?

Q3. Why did Southwark Council only provide information on trees of 150mm or more diameter, and thereby claim only 18 trees were to be felled in Area Z Underhill Road Woods and 26 trees in Area D1 The Glade on One Tree Hill?

Q4. Has the full tree information never been provided because it would reveal the scale of Southwark’s destruction of immensely valuable inner city woods for burial plots?

FOI Request: Please provide the numbers of trees of 75mm diameter or more felled in area of the Camberwell Cemeteries since October 2015.

Q5. Southwark Member for Environment Cllr Wingfield has stated to the press that Southwark cannot be held to any planning commitments made in Design & Access Statements. Since this means they are not worth the paper they are written on, will Southwark admit Design & Access Statements are only produced to mislead the public?

Q6. Which aspects are the public to ignore of the Area B planning application’s Design & Access Statement for burial on three acres of SINC Metropolitan Open Land in the Honor Oak Nature Corridor?

Q7. Why has Southwark Council ignored the results of its own July 2016 consultation on Area B to which 86% of 454 people responded ‘dislike it all’ and called for no burial on Area B?


Q8. How many soldiers’ war graves lie in the Area Z development zone and where?

Q9. How many of the ‘as many as 48’ soldiers’ graves are from the First World War, how many from the Second World War?

Q10. Why were only six locations shown on Southwark’s Planning Application plans?

Q11. Why is Southwark Council refusing to memorialise 23 of the ‘as many as 48’ soldiers’ graves?

Q12. How can Southwark Council claim not to disturb soldiers’ graves if the Council does not know where each one is?

FOI Requests:

Please publish Southwark Council’s plans to memorialise ‘as many as 48’ soldiers’ war graves in Area Z.

Please provide the location, names and records of all soldiers known to be buried not just in Area Z but in all areas of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries.


Q3. Why is Southwark Council misleading the public by claiming it is not committed to ‘reuse’, when all current actions are contained in your Burial Strategy 2012 to dig up thousands of graves for resale, and you have no alternative plan?

Q14. Why has Southwark refused to explore alternatives including out-of-borough burial, active promotion of alternatives to burial, improvement of Crematorium operation and quality of service?

Q15. Why has Southwark refused repeated requests to consult families on plans to dig up thousands of people’s remains in all graves over 75 years old for resale?

Q16. Why has Southwark refused repeated requests to carry out a Burial Needs Assessment?

Q17. Why has Southwark refused repeated requests to carry out Environmental Impact Assessments?

Q18. Why has Southwark refused repeated requests to disclose financial feasibility, required by its own policy?


Q19. Religious discrimination in any Council Service, whether to save money or not, is illegal under Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 (Public Sector Equality Duty). What steps has Southwark Council taken in accordance with policy to investigate religious discrimination in the Burial Service, following serious concerns repeatedly raised for over two years?

Q20. Why has Southwark not carried out a Borough Burial Needs Assessment for its Burial Strategy as stated by Harriet Harman MP in Parliament in February 2007, to ensure avoidance of discrimination?

Q21. When will Southwark Council admit relying on most Muslim residents being buried out-of-borough in private cemeteries at their own cost – while spending millions expanding Burial Service provision for other residents?

Q22. Why does Southwark’s Burial Strategy 2012 only provide for 7 Muslim burials a year, even though Southwark’s 30,000 Muslim resident are 10% of population but 30% of borough burial need, with around 270 deaths per year?

Q23. How many burials per year has Southwark’s Burial Strategy planned to provide for Muslim residents over the next 20 years?

FOI Request: Please provide a copy of Southwark‘s Borough Burial Needs Assessment, as stated by Harriet Harman in 2007 to avoid religious discrimination in Burial Strategies based on ‘reuse’ or excavation of graves.


Q24. Southwark Council relied heavily on claims of London Wildlife Trust support to gain planning approval.  So why is Southwark carrying out tree felling and undergrowth clearance in nesting season against commitments made to the London Wildlife Trust and the public not to?

Q25. What discussions has Southwark had with the London Wildlife Trust before and since tree felling and undergrowth clearance started?

Q26. Why were an ecologist and licensed bat specialist not present during the first disturbance, felling and clearance on Friday 10th March, despite Southwark’s claims to the press that they were?

Q27. How long was the Southwark Ecology Officer’s visit on Wednesday 8th March to identify birds nesting and bats roosting in all trees in and around the site, nearby or in the buffer zone to One Tree Hill Nature Reserve with known bird nesting and hedgehog and bat colonies?

FOI Request: Please provide a copy of Southwark Ecology Officer’s survey report of 8th March.

Before and after – the destruction for innercity burial

Area Z: Underhill Road Wood Camberwell Old Cemetery

Area D1: The Glade on One Tree Hill, Camberwell New Cemetery

Area F: Woodvale Meadows, Camberwell Old Cemetery

Area B: Now and coming, Honor Oak Nature Corridor, Camberwell New Cemetery

destruction for innercity burial
Underhill Road Wood
Underhill Road Wood
Underhill Road Wood