Penarth Town councillors were told last night that there in only enough burial space left in the town cemetery for 25 more traditional “coffin burials” to be carried out there.
The few vacant Penarth Cemetery plots still available are expected to be filled – so to speak – within 6 months from now.
It means the cemetery will then become a venue only for the interment, or for the scattering, of cremated ashes – bringing to an end the time-honoured tradition of the coffin-burial of bodies in sanctified ground in Penarth. There isn’t any more sanctified ground left.
The running of the local cemetery is one of the few real responsibilities which the Labour-controlled Penarth Town Council actually has. Councillors have received several successive warnings over the years about the looming crisis – but have done little about it.
Last night councillors heard the latest report on the crisis from council officers which explained that the first burial in Penarth Cemetery took place in 1903 . Local residents had always been able to purchase the rights to burial plots within the cemetery for what are called “full coffin burials” – but now only 25 full coffin spaces remain available .
The 25 remaining plots – councillors were told – could alternatively also be used for the interment of cremated remains. As each plot of could accommodate 4 cremated interments there is space left – in theory – for 100 of these.
It’s now being proposed that – to extend the life of the cemetery – cremated remains could be placed in a multi-compartmented “columbarium” to be built in what is now the toilet block at the cemetery .( It’s proposed that new toilets be built in what was formerly the “mortuary viewing area”) .
The old mortuary at the cemetery would also be re-developed as a similar columbarium facility
It’s proposed to renovate the 1904 Chapel at the cemetery as a “flexible community space” allowing it to be used for both traditional memorial services and other activities
The council officers say the Chapel has been assessed as being structurally sound. It contains several historical features including a classic Victorian-style tiled floor and it is feared that the building will “degrade if remedial action is not taken” .
Cllr Rhiannon Birch (Labour Cornerswell) addressed the central question of the grave spaces. She understood there was legislation which provided for graves which were “no longer kept up” to be taken back into public ownerships that they could be “re-used” .
The council officer who compiled the report – Arabella Calder – said this only applied to London boroughs and the scheme had not been extended to the rest of the England. In any case Wales had not been considered as part of any extended burial plot re-use scheme. The Church of England was now taking a “much more relaxed stance” on this matter and was now allowing the re-use of plots. However, as the Church in Wales is “disestablished“, Wales was not included.
Cllr Birch said surely Penarth Cemetery was secular? However Ms Calder replied that it is a multi-demoninational cemetery and is “sanctified ground”.
The Town Clerk said she did not want the council to find itself – as she put it – “in a situation where it had to close the gates of the cemetery before decisions were made. ”
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) said he was in favour of accepting the recommendations made in the report. He said “Architecturally the chapel looks great in some ways and it is a very under-utilised asset . I am also very much aware that in this area of Glamorgan it’s becoming very competitive in terms of burial grounds and burial places “. Cllr Wilson said the council needed to “up its game”. He suggested that the council should “talk to other landowners about possible areas of consecrated ground”.
The Town Clerk replied that the council had already investigated land-with Welsh Government about land which was available in the Penarth area – but that had been a “no-go”. The council had also looked at Vale of Glamorgan land “but that wasn’t an avenue we could go down”. Officers had therefore recommended that the best option was for the council to develop the asset which it already had [Penarth Cemetery]. This, she said, would be “far cheaper than any redevelopment of part of the Golf Club land” [ The Glamorganshire Golf Club is adjacent to Penarth Cemetery]
In answer to a question from Cllr Ben Gray (Conservative Plymouth Ward) the council officer who wrote the report- Arabella Calder – said that about another 100 spaces had been identigfied within the grounds of the cemetery for the interment of cremated remains. This would provide capacity for “another 12 months – 2 years tops”. After that there was no other option but “scatter lawns” and “Columbaria ” – as proposed in the council report.
The Town Clerk commented that Chapel was currently in good enough condition to be renovated but she could not “guarantee that forever” .
Cllr Martin Turner (Conservative Plymouth Ward) – harking back to Cllr Wilson’s remarks about finding more land for burials said “It could be a toss up between Cemeteries and Leisure Gardens of course”.
Cllr Turner said that deciding which was the best thing would be “a difficult question to answer” [ “Leisure Gardens” is a council euphemism for council allotments rented to gardeners for growing crops]
The Town Clerk warned that if “a second cemetery” was developed at a different location that would raise a “resource issue”.
- The Council will now undertake a tendering process to appoint architects to develop a design brief for the renovation of the cemetery chapel.
- There will now also be a public consultation on the future operation of the Chapel and of the cemetery.