'I'll fight for right to be buried with my family': Fury as new government proposals threaten to close cemeteries

A Lincolnshire councillor is backing a campaign for the right to be buried next to his family after DEFRA announced new regulations that could see many low-lying cemeteries close.

Coun Ady Findley, who regularly visits the graves of his family, says the DEFRA regulations are morally wrong.
Coun Ady Findley, who regularly visits the graves of his family, says the DEFRA regulations are morally wrong.

Coun Ady Findley, who has a tradition of burials in his family, says 45% of the county is low-lying and the implications of the regulations would be far reaching.

"My family are buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Skegness and it has always been my intention to be buried with them," he explained.

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"The new regulations would close the cemetery because it is below sea level.

Coun Ady Findley in St Mary's Cemetery, Skegness.

"Apart from the financial impact on the council who run it, it would be morally wrong to bring in regulations which would mean people could not be buried with their loved ones.

"There would be double graves with headstones left empty causing much heartache for families.

"Some religions do not accept cremation and so that brings God into it and you can't get higher than that.

"The Government is clearly trying to push this through by not giving an adequate timeframe to discuss it.

Trusthorpe Cemetery.

"People have no idea this is happening but I am passionate about stopping these regulations and urge the public to write to DEFRA and their MPS to get this stopped."

The two main changes proposed are to increase the minimum grave size to five metres squared and retain a one-metre minimum clearance between the base of a grave and the water table in a cemetery.

DEFRA have said that the new regulations will be laid before Parliament in the summer and apply from Autumn 2022.

Already the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has responded to the consultation, which closed on December 22, on behalf of Parish and Town Councils and strongly objected.

Boston Cemetery.

NALC says the proposals, which would roughly halve the cemetery space available to many local councils, would lead to premature closure of many graveyards, and cause problems with residents who pre-purchased family plots.

A survey by the Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils (LALC) closed on Friday, asking other Parish and Town Councils to provide further evidence that can be submitted to NALC.

Tony Howard, chairman of LALC and member of Mablethorpe Town Council, told Lincolnshire World: "After surveying as many of our members as was possible in the ridiculously small amount of time DEFRA allowed for responses to their proposals it was obvious that many of our coastal parishes were alarmed by these.

"Many were worried that the relatively high water table would severely curtail their cemetery operations with some having fears that they would be unable to find suitable replacement land, even within many miles radius.

"Across the county there were real worries that capacity could be reduced by as much as 50%, bringing the additional worry that new land may need to be found very quickly.

"As the body representing parish and town councils LALC is appalled that such drastic measures are being forced on our members.

"Small councils take their responsibilities to their residents very seriously in both the quality of service they deliver and in doing so most economically.

"When councils find themselves suddenly short of burial space, or are forced to drastically put up their tax precept or have to explain to a resident that they have lost their final resting place it will not be DEFRA who are faced with sorting out the problems they will have caused.

"As well as coastal parishes there are many in the low lying fens facing similar difficulties, one even contemplating if they will be forced into only being able to offer plots for cremated remains.

"Lincolnshire's findings have been shared with the National Association of Local Councils(NALC) who are taking the fight to the government in Westminster on behalf of all councils across the country in similar positions to our members."

Skegness Town Council - with is currently budgeted to receive £12,000 in grave reservations - debated the matter on Wednesday and agreed to write a letter of objection to DEFRA and invite Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman to the next meeting to take councillors' concerns to Parliament.

However, not all councils have had the chance to debate the proposals.

Mablethorpe Town Council is another which could see their cemetery close because it is low-lying and would not meet the regulations. Financially it would cost them between £8-10,000 in lost revenue.

Clerk to Mablethorpe Town Council Steve Fletcher said they had objected to it in the consultation but had not had a chance to debate it properly because they had cancelled their December meeting due to Covid-19.

"We have members of the council who are vulnerable and cancelled the meeting because of the spread of the new variant and the new restrictions," he said. "We have, however, responded to the consultation and objected to it.

"Our cemetery at Trusthorpe has a capacity of 1,500- to 2,000 plots and there is around one funeral a week using it.

"We have people who have pre-booked plots - some are parents who have children buried there.

"There would be a lot of anger if this was brought in which would come to the council.

"It would be morally wrong, which is the stand we are taking, especially when you look at the reasoning for it.

"If you are talking about pollution there is nothing from a burial ground to compare with proposals for a nuclear waste dump near us at Theddlethorpe.

"We've had green algae from the sea and oil spillage at the north end of Mablethorpe.

"These are the things that need addressing."

Rector of the Skegness Group of Churches says he cannot understand the reasoning behind the regulations. He said: "For centuries people have been buried next to loved ones and that at present we have faculties (legal permission) for the burial of people in St. Mary's and St. Clement's churchyards.

"There are graves that have been used for a husband or wife and the expectation is that the surviving spouse will be interred in the same grave when they also die.

"If we are not allowed to bury people in the land where they live it seems strange to me as people would have to go some distance to be buried in a place where they are not known.

"There is a link between people and place and a lot of people are buried alongside family but many people move to seaside resorts to retire because they like the idea of living close to the sea and I would have thought that many would also choose to be buried in a place where they feel at home rather than somewhere they do not feel they belong.

"After centuries of burying people where they choose it seems odd to me that it is now a problem. I haven't come across the reasons the government are considering this but it would certainly be difficult for a lot of people to simply accept."

Lincolnshire World spoke to MP for Boston and Skegness Matt Warman about the proposals.

Mr Warman said: "DEFRA has recently concluded a public consultation around environmental pollutants, and the resultant proposals - in their current form - would mean the closure of St Mary’s Cemetery in Skegness.

"In this instance, no new burials would be able to take place in Skegness, which I entirely appreciate would come as a real disappointment to local residents.

"I have been in touch with Skegness Town Council on this matter and written to the relevant DEFRA minister to raise concerns subsequently.

"This is something on which I will be engaging with representatives at both local and government level as the outcomes of this consultation take shape."