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Southwark cannot say current burial design won’t flood homes

20 January 2017

At a Cemetery Stakeholder Group meeting this week, Southwark Councillors admitted they had cut down hundreds of trees without knowing whether the ground could absorb rain and surface water.

They also could not guarantee that burial plans as they stand and as approved in October 2015 would not lead to local houses being flooded.

At the meeting, Southwark Flood Risk Manager John Kissi confirmed residents’ concerns about flooding were justified.

Mr Kissi insisted tests must be done to find out if the ground can support the weight of soakaway tanks and if it can absorb rain and surface water.

Mr Kissi also stated that these soil tests must be conducted in winter when the London Clay is at its most saturated.

Last year, Southwark cut down hundreds of trees for burial plots in Camberwell Old Cemetery, without carrying out vital soil tests to see if the site could handle rain and surface water without the trees there.

These two acres of trees and undergrowth had been absorbing hundreds of gallons of water a day from the soil.

The two-acre site known as Area Z in Underhill Road Wood sits on tens of metres of London Clay which is highly impermeable when saturated.

Homes on Ryedale have been flooded by this site before, even before the trees were cut down.

Southwark’s plans show two water tanks temporarily holding back rain and surface water no longer absorbed by the trees.

These soakaway tanks shown on the plans are supposed to prevent houses directly below on Ryedale from flooding.

These soil tests must also be carried out to a certain depth. But 48,000 people are buried just six feet below the surface, including six Commonwealth War Graves. The Council has neither Parliamentary nor Church permission to disturb these graves in any way. So how will they carry out the soil tests?

Southwark Council still doesn’t have approval of their plans from the Diocese of Southwark, originally due in September.

Yet the council ploughs on with destructive and potentially dangerous inner city burial plans, in Underhill Road Wood, in The Glade on One Tree Hill, and at the Old Nursery Site in the Honor Oak Nature Corridor. Southwark continues to ignore all objections to burying people in the inner city.

Labour Councillors John Hartley (College), Vicki Mills (Peckham Rye) and Ian Wingfield (Brunswick Ward and Cabinet Member for Environment and the Public Realm), all fully support this burial project, despite having no answer to preventing flood risks to local homes, only saying soil tests are needed.

“Southwark hasn’t done the testing, and they can’t do the testing, because it means disturbing the graves and they don’t have permission to do that,” said Lewis Schaffer, local campaigner and Cemetery Stakeholder Group member.

“If they couldn’t do the soil tests, they should not have cut down two acres of trees. Their whole burial project is misguided and needs to stop ASAP.”

Southwark is spending millions of pounds to keep burying people within the borough. Nine of the thirteen inner London boroughs already provide burial outside their borough boundaries.

Southwark’s burial project is dangerous to local homes and communities, is environmentally damaging, destroys heritage and the history, memorials and graves of those already buried, only provides burial for some faiths and not others, and is costing a fortune.

The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries are fighting to stop inner city burial and save Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries as Memorial Park Nature Reserves with respect for the dead and nature for the living, like Nunhead, Highgate and Tower Hamlets Cemeteries.

flooding across Camberwell Old Cemetery

Above: Even without removing hundreds of trees, flooding across Camberwell Old Cemetery happens every winter, as the whole site sits on tens of metres of impermeable London Clay. The area is also known for its underground springs.

Below: Area Z in Underhill Road Wood: Two acres cleared, hundreds of trees felled for burial plots against thousands of written objections from residents.

Grade 1 SINC woods after
Grade 1 SINC woods cut down and chipped