The future of our cemeteries

Frequently asked questions

What are the plans for Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries?

The plans for our cemeteries are set out in the Cemetery Strategy 2012 which aims to put in place a sustainable service that meets the current and future needs of the people of Southwark for burial space. At the same time, we want to create beautiful restful places that can be used for leisure as well as a respectful place for the deceased.

As part of the plans, we are currently creating three new burial areas as follows:

  1. Area Z, Camberwell Old Cemetery
  2. Area D1, Camberwell New Cemetery
  3. Area B, Camberwell New Cemetery (subject to planning permission, see application 17/AP/0671)

You can read more details on the project web pages.

Do you have permission from the Church of England?

Yes. Some elements of work included in our Area D1 and Area Z projects require faculty approval from the Diocese of Southwark (Church of England). The council was informed that faculty approval had been gained on 28 February 2017. We now have permission from the Church of England who support our plans to maintain burial provision through creating of new burial plots.

When are the new burial areas being created?

Work to create new burial plots at Area D1 (Camberwell New Cemetery) has begun. At Area Z (Camberwell Old Cemetery) we are undertaking important ground investigations before the ground work begins. At Area B we must first gain planning permission before we can schedule any work.

Why are you felling trees during bird nesting season?

The Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 states that it is illegal to disturb active bird nesting including the birds, building of nests and the birds eggs. Although the nesting season is widely considered to begin in March and end during August this does not mean that no tree felling can take place during this time. Because it has been necessary to start works at this time due to the conditions of the faculty decision, Southwark Council has employed qualified ecologists to undertake thorough inspections to check for nesting activities and employed an ecologist to be present during the works in the cemeteries.  The ecologist is also a licenced bat worker. These measures ensure that the works can continue legally. If any active nests are found works will stop and a buffer zone will be established around the nest.  All ecological surveys in the areas of work have shown no old or active bird nesting or bat roosts on either site therefore no breach of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 or Habitat Regulations has been committed. Southwark Council will continue to inspect each tree and monitor the area for active nesting before felling takes place.

Isn’t it against the law to carry out work to or fell trees during bird nesting season?

No, it is illegal to disturb nesting birds, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). We are making sure this does not happen by getting a qualified ecologist to check the trees to be felled, vegetation to be removed, and nearby trees and vegetation that are not being removed, for nesting birds prior to any work being undertaken. Work will only be undertaken if no nesting birds are found. If birds are nesting in the area then work will not commence and officers will seek advice from professionals. Inspections will be made immediately before work.

Are you burying on top of war graves?

We will not bury on top of war graves. We have agreed the layout of new burial plots in the area that contains 48 unmarked war graves with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  We are also looking at commemorating those soliders either by marking with Commonwealth War Grave headstones, where possible or by adding their names to existing War Memorials. Any method of commemoration will be consulted on and agreed with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission prior to going ahead.

Re-use of graves and what happens if we run out of burial spaces again?

Our Strategy prioritises the re-use and reclamation of public and private graves (the law states that graves older than 75 years could be re-used for burial).  Based on current demand for burials in Southwark, once the proposed developments are complete the council may consider providing burial space sustainably through rotating cemetery areas available for re-use. Further work is required before this can commence.

Area B, Camberwell New Cemetery - why are you progressing with a traditional lawn burial layout?

A decision has been taken to pursue Option 2 the revised traditional burial option for Area B was taken with full consideration of the views of residents, faith groups and funeral directors.
Having taken advice from the funeral directors we understand that there is very little demand for woodland and meadow burials in Southwark.  We are told that residents want a memorial headstone to commemorate their loved ones. 
Pursuing woodland or meadow burial would not only waste council resources but, if there is limited demand for this type of burial, would mean that we would need to maximise burial space elsewhere across cemeteries to meet future demand.

Does the council have to provide burial space. Do we really need more?

Burial space in Southwark is due to run out sometime in automn 2018 if the council takes no action. There is no legal requirement for Southwark council to provide more burial space but it is a valued service that the council has chosen to continue to provide. Southwark is home to many communities for whom burial is the only acceptable option. The council is obligated to respect their religious and cultural beliefs and continue to make burial an option for these communities.

Why don’t you bury people outside the borough?

The option to bury residents outside of the borough received very little support in the 2011 public consultation. Not only would it be expensive, it would also be unfair to expect residents to travel outside the borough to visit the graves of their loved ones.

Creating burial spots locally would be cheaper for residents than insisting that they were buried outside the borough which would incur non-resident/private cemetery fees. This would be unfair considering that 38% of Southwark residents are living in areas considered ‘most deprived’.

Also, local people expressed a strong desire to be buried locally, during the burial strategy consultation. Over 1000 comments were made in response to the consultation with 48% of respondents saying that burial in Southwark should continue.Furthermore, the Mayor of London’s ‘London Plan’ urges councils to ensure that provision is made for London’s burial needs, including the needs of groups for whom burial is the only option and that such provision should be based on the principle of proximity to local communities and reflect the different requirements for types of provision.

What have you done to consult with local people?

A widely publicised consultation took place in 2011 to consider future plans for burial provision.
In 2015, the local community was given the opportunity to review the plans for the cemeteries and contribute any feedback. This was followed up with a public meeting in February to address environmental concerns and hear again from the community. 

Further engagement activities have been and will to be taken through the stakeholder group and at key stages of projects.

Why can’t the cemeteries be turned into local Nature Reserves, as with Nunhead Cemetery?

A full review of parks and open spaces was undertaken for the 2013 Open Space Strategy which feeds into the Southwark Plan. The strategy was subject to extensive consultation and identified the need to use the existing cemeteries for burial space. Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries are Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs). The SINC status will be maintained following the proposed projects to develop more burial space.

The designation of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries as Local Nature Reserves would be impractical in light of our need to use these sites as active cemeteries. This is because the main rational for declaring an LNR is to protect an area for the primary purpose of conservation of wildlife and biodiversity not for active cemetery use.

How many burial spaces are you creating?

A maximum of 4865 plots will be created by the proposals that are detailed in the cemetery strategy (pdf, 3mb). We expect to create 1,853 new burial plots through the three projects which are currently being implemented (called Area B, Area D1 and Area Z). Once these current projects are complete we will need to revisit the Cemetery strategy and consider any future projects.Once these are complete re-use may be an option so that we can provide a sustainable burial service in Southwark, however this requires more consultation and engagement before it can be undertaken.

Will there be any trees lost?

Yes, there will be some trees lost but the number is being kept to a minimum, and more than twice as many new trees will be planted.. Please see the next question for details on numbers of removals and replacements.

The council has worked with the London Wildlife Trust to ensure that as many mature trees as possible are kept and the character of the cemetery will remain.

I heard that you're cutting down 12 acres of woodland, is this true?

No, we're not cutting down 12 acres of woodland. Any such claims are untrue.

Currently, we only have two projects agreed for implementation that impact wooded areas: 

Area Z, Camberwell Old Cemetery

  • the entire project site (including Underhill Road boundary improvements) is 3.12 acres but, by no means, is all of this covered in trees
  • we plan to remove 19 significant trees in total (trees with a trunk over 75mm in girth)
  • following redevelopment of the site we intend to plant 60 new trees

Area D1, Camberwell New Cemetery

  • the entire area of the project site is 0.54 acres and, again, not all of this is covered in trees
  • we plan to remove 23 trees
  • as part of the project we intend to plant, at least, 25 new trees

What about existing biodiversity?

We're confident the plans for the cemeteries will not just preserve but enhance the existing biodiversity and ecology of the area and increase the amount of open space for residents to enjoy.

As ‘Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation’ (SINC) the council is required to carefully consider the ecological impact of any plans.

  • we will be undertaking woodland management
  • there will be large areas of coppice habitat (which is beneficial to wildlife and currently a rarity in the borough)
  • there will be a continuous boundary of native hedging/other planting providing a buffer and wildlife corridor
  • with the clearance we will create opportunities for woodland ground flora to flourish this will be an important habitat
  • the new meadows are a Biodiversity Action Plan target habitat and will create important new habitat
  • there will be a new pond at Area B which will provide plant and water sources to further support the ecology on site, including reptiles and insects.

Overall the diversity of habitats (a mosaic of habitats) will mean that the site will be more ecologically valuable than it is now.

Are you 'selling off' the cemeteries?

Absolutely not. The land will continue to be owned and managed by Southwark council. It is the case that we charge residents a fee for a fifty year lease on their family graves. The income from these fees contributes directly to the upkeep of all Southwark’s cemeteries.

Isn’t this all because you lost the court case on illegal dumping?

No. The council won all its legal actions in relation to the dumping.  The land in the Old Cemetery has always been designated for use as a cemetery and we always planned to develop it for this purpose. It is the case that we are obligated to remediate the area where illegal dumping took place (remove and replace topsoil). Therefore it makes sense to create burial space at the same time as carrying out the remediation so that costs and disturbances to residents are kept to a minimum.

Won’t the new graves simply create a stale and sanitised area?

No. Our intention is to create a space where burials can take place that also retains the ‘wild’ character so admired by local residents. We want to create a space where biodiversity can flourish. A space local people will want to return to time and again, whether it is to visit their loved ones or simply to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city outside.

Your burial plans are discriminatory. They don’t allow for Muslim or Jewish burial.

We currently have a segregated space for Muslim burial in Nunhead Cemetery. There are around 48 spaces remaining and based on current demand over the last 3 years we expect the current provision to last for another 5 years. Even if demand were to increase, this would still amount to 3 years of burial space. As such current provision does not discriminate against Southwark’s Muslim Community.

Southwark does not have a segregated space for Jewish burial. However, any residents, irrespective of any religious preferences, are welcome to use our cemeteries. In addition to dedicated areas for Muslim burial we also have plots located on un-consecrated land for multi-faith burial. As such Jewish residents are welcome to use our cemeteries and Southwark has already had 2 Jewish burials in the last 3 years.

The burial strategy is likely to offer benefits to some religious or faith groups for whom burial is required. This will support equality of choice and the freedom to practice religion.

I’d like more details about re-use of graves. At what stage if any does the council plan to employ the "lift and deepen" method of re-using graves?

There are currently no plans going ahead for re-use of graves. Lift and deepen may be employed on older graves from 2022 as part of the councils’ formally adopted Cemetery Strategy (consulted upon and adopted in 2012). However more work is required before any re-use can begin. In direct response to specific requests made, stakeholders (as part of on-going consultation) and Southwark council are considering whether earlier opportunities for re- use exist (sooner than 2022), but those considerations are complex. Any finding or plans would be consulted upon further.

Private graves may potentially be re-used from 2022 but only where there is no valid objection from any owner or rightful heir to the grave, or relative, and only those graves which are in excess of 75 years since last internment; and only then where fully in accordance with the 1975 Greater London Powers Act (subject to amendment) and the 2007 London Local Authorities Act and/or subject to Faculty (Diocesan) approval following consultation and notification.

Is there any other method of re-using or reclaiming graves which the council currently uses, plans to employ or will consider employing which will involve disturbing or excavating existing graves and/or removing or disturbing the occupants of graves, however briefly?

The council is not carrying out any work which involves removing or disturbing occupants of graves, nor would it ever do so without following proper legal procedures. Re-opening to allow 2nd and 3rd internments in accordance with the wishes of the family is carried out routinely in accordance with the legislative framework and best practice. 

What measures does Southwark Council take or will take to ensure relatives of those buried in local cemeteries are found so that they can place an objection to having their loved ones' graves re-used or reclaimed?

A combination of notices erected on site and direct contact by letter (to owners last known address) and notices placed in a newspaper with London-wide circulation are used fully in accordance with the legislation and guidance.  Re-use is not planned imminently as noted above, but as part of developing the detail of re-use procedures. In the future Southwark council will look to expand these methods of making contact with relatives to include, for instance, web-based notices.  

What procedure does the council follow to ensure that once they're in possession of any such objections, the wishes of the relatives are upheld and the graves concerned remain undisturbed? What assurances does the council give in this respect?

The legitimate wishes of relatives will always be observed and the council is bound by the law in this respect. The precise mechanisms, procedures and plans of proposed re-use are the subject of on-going work. They would be based around best practice guidance, (including LEDNET Technical Advice on the Re Use and Reclamation of Graves in London Local Authorities), would prioritise the oldest of graves, be strictly in accordance with the cemeteries' Conservation Management Plan(s), plans would draw upon European experience (where re-use is widely practised) and, where relevant, the precise requirements of the Diocese would be accommodated. 

Why did you carry out work before you had permission from the Church / Diocese of Southwark?

We're doing everything we can to keep our projects on track to ensure we don’t run out of burial space. In early 2016 we carried out works in Area Z that did not require permission while we were awaiting a decision by the Diocese of Southwark. All works are in line with the planning permission granted and have been discussed with the Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark council. 

I've heard that this is a conservation area...

It's important to note that neither cemetery is within a conservation area. Both cemeteries are designated as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, which are not the same as conservation areas.  

Last updated: 22 March 2017