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Recycle gravestones idea at MAB meeting in Commons

15 March 2002

The debate on Britain\'s cemeteries that should culminate with proposals for new laws and regulations continued in February with a meeting at the House of Commons hosted by Crispin Blunt MP.

The meeting was organised by the Memorial Awareness Board (MAB), who recruited Crispin Blunt, one of the members of the Select Committee that reviewed cemeteries last year, as a \'patron\'.

The Select Committee, in its report last year (see NSS May issue), said some basic information needed collecting - simple facts like how many cemeteries there are and how much burial space is available. It complained that "an impending burial crisis has neither been averted nor anticipated".

In response to the report, the Home Office has established the Burial & Cemeteries Advisory Group to commission research into cemeteries and report back with its recommendations.

Trevor Cobley, chairman of the Advisory Group, was one of the 85 people who crowded into a House of Commons dining room for the MAB meeting on 21 February. There were also representatives of council and church burial authorities, funeral directors, memorial masons and other interested parties.

Leading the debate was Ian Hussein, director of cemeteries and crematoria in the City of London. He said the select Committee report had focused ministerial minds, but that those minds had since moved on to other matters.

He quoted the Select Committee\'s report, stating that Britain\'s cemeteries were dilapidated, poorly maintained and overcrowded.

He said people were shocked to discover there was no mandatory duty (and duty was a word he repeatedly used) on local authorities to provide cemeteries, nor to look after them. There was no inspectorate to maintain standards. There was no duty of care.

He said graves needed to be re-used to make more burial space available and suggested that gravestones might also be recycled.

"In my view there\'s a great deal to be gained from the re use of these old memorial stones," he said. "I think the solution is a combination of re use, removal and preservation."

Penny Keen, from The Monumental Company in Sussex, said the restrictions placed on the size of memorials in many cemeteries today would mean many historical memorials could not be re-used because they would be too big. MAB is fighting these restrictions on behalf of masons with its Freedom of Choice campaign.

Mark Bolton, of Leese Memorials in Stoke-on-Trent, said he had never really considered the re-use of stones, but thought it was a good idea, although he wondered about the legality as somebody owned the memorials.

John Richardson from wholesalers R Lidster in Worksop said stones could be designed to accept multiple inscriptions.

Steve Richardson, from the Essex memorial wholesalers that bear his name, said he had proposed to Ian Hussein last year that graves could be re-used by building mausoleums over them.

Hussein told the meeting that he had opposed the idea because it just transferred the problem from below ground to above ground and that the proposal would be opposed by planners.

Richardson questioned that, saying he had sold 41 mausoleums in the past five months.

Hussein also suggested that charges for burials should be increased and the money retained to meet future costs of maintaining the cemetery not spent as it was received.

The idea was supported by Crispin Blunt, but increasing the price of burials could hit memorial masons as it tends to be less well off people who buy memorial stones.

On the question of memorial safety Hussein said: "The danger posed by unsafe memorials isn\'t being addressed with the urgency that it should be." He said people were being killed by falling headstones and wondered: "How is it that that\'s been allowed to continue?"

He pointed out there was not a single Government standard for memorials and while "every Tom, Dick and Harry" in local government required a qualification of some kind, there was no qualification relating to cemetery management."

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