The Town Council is delighted to report that following a two day Committee at the House of Lords on 6 and 7 July, a Private Bill to extend its powers to reuse burial space in the Cemetery at Bishop’s Stortford has progressed to the next stage. A vote will now be taken by the Lords which should then proceed to a further hearing in the House of Commons before being enacted.
The Council believes that the Bishop’s Stortford town centre Cemetery holds significant value to the local community by providing a local place of burial and a place where relatives and others close to the deceased can visit to honour and remember their lost family and friends. Without enacting a Private Bill it is estimated that burial space will run out within the next 12 years. After this time, the Council would not be able to offer burials within the Town until at least the year 2080. In fact, the practice of reusing graves is fairly common in many churchyards and has been carried out by the Council in certain specified circumstances since 2018. However, even with these existing powers of reuse, space in the Cemetery will run out in about 2036.
The Lords listened carefully to the arguments and evidence of the Town Council which were being promoted by East Herts District Council and after careful consideration dismissed arguments by objectors that there was sufficient space within the existing cemetery, that alternative sites could be found and that the extra burial space was not needed as more people chose to be cremated rather than buried.
In essence, the Bill allows the Council to extinguish rights of burial in grave spaces and to disturb graves for further interments; a practice that the Church of England approves of and one with sufficient safeguards to ensure that graves are treated with dignity and respect. These safeguards include protecting certain graves which are of special significance (such as War Commission graves) and those where families object to disturbance. During the Committee, the Lords asked the Council to broaden its interpretation of the word “relative” which means that not only lineal descendants but also lineal descendants of grave owners and other relatives will be able to object to specific graves being reused.
A similar process has been followed by other burial authorities, notably at Highgate Cemetery in London and it is hoped that the same practice can apply at Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery. A further public consultation will follow should the Bill reach the Commons stage and the Council will continue to keep residents informed of developments.