LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: 23 JUNE 2016

(23 June, 2016)

This week we have letters on Dulwich Hamlet FC and Camberwell Cemeteries

Save Southwark Woods should engage

I write in reply to Blanche Cameron’s letter (‘Why are graves being sold off as ‘new’ plots?’, News 16th June). I will leave the personal attacks to one side as most residents are more concerned about ensuring we have a sustainable burial strategy. But let me get a few facts straight first.

On 2nd June Ms Cameron, on behalf of the Save Southwark Woods (SSW) campaign, emailed a series of six questions to me to answer as the new Cabinet Member with responsibility for burial strategy. I replied answering all her questions fully on 7th June. I informed her too that I was re-establishing the Cemeteries Stakeholder Group and formally inviting SSW to be a part of the Group to consider not just the immediate issues around the Camberwell Old Cemetery but also determining Southwark’s  future burial strategy. I also wrote that I was more than happy to meet with her and SSW directly to discuss their concerns.

I did not receive a response. Instead on 10th June SSW issued a press release in which only my response to one question was contained and then omitting a crucial final sentence which distorted the whole meaning of my reply. Then the letter was published in the SN. Call me old-fashioned but surely this isn’t the way to do business, especially if you are trying to persuade someone of your own arguments?

SSW conflates two issues. The ‘re-use’ and the ‘topping-up’ of burial space. The practice of topping-up has occurred in cemeteries for hundreds of years in London and around the UK. New burials in the Wood Vale area (Area F) of Camberwell Old Cemetery take place in topped-up soil, over an old area that was previously used for public burial.  This is not re-use, it does not result in the disturbance of human remains, there are legal requirements regarding the depth of undisturbed earth between burials and is carried out entirely lawfully and having undergone proper consultation. On ‘re-use’ it is not our practice but in line with the results of a previous public consultation which favoured it we will be holding a separate public consultation exercise on it later this year.

Legally although no grave in any local authority cemetery is owned forever, let me be absolutely clear, we don’t sell burial plots on our website. So it’s incorrect to say we’re selling off the graves of the poor. Southwark will always explain the situation of any plot to relatives: virgin ground or not, consecrated or not, with or without limitation on the type of memorial etc. We will also continue to engage with funeral directors to ensure families are fully appraised of their options.

I come to this new Cabinet role with no pre-determined view and open to review the present strategy and projects. I believe our cemeteries to be public assets. Not in the financial sense but in terms of heritage and culture. We should be proud of our cemeteries and like parks give them a central role in our communities. This is why it is important to re-convene the Cemeteries Stakeholder Group to ensure all of our projects, current and future, aim to balance the continued provision of burial for as long as we realistically can, in existing cemeteries, alongside the conservation of heritage and the restoration of a natural environment. It is a difficult balance to make but we must start, I’m certain most will agree, by cleaning-up dumped waste and contaminated land and bring back into public use areas that were previously out-of-bounds for new burials including woodland and meadow burial to improve our cemeteries for both the living and the dead. I hope all interested parties, including SSW, will engage positively in this process.

Cllr Ian Wingfield, Cabinet Member for Environment & the Public Realm, Southwark Council

Why have debts risen as attendance soared?

I have no wish to criticise Liam Hickey (letters 16 June) or his fellow football committee volunteers who keep Dulwich Hamlet going from match to match. They do sterling work.

But I must question their judgement. Most of them must remember the decision by government inspector Nicholas Hamman in 2003 to dismiss the Homebase appeal they backed. They too wanted to build on the pitch and move the stadium to Green Dale. Liam would do well to re-read this.

Hammam made it very clear that the ‘special circumstances’ Liam quotes where building was permitted on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) did not apply in the case of Dulwich Hamlet. There is no evidence they could apply now.

Hamman also said: “The relocated stadium would be a serious encroachment …. A permanent and harmful intrusion on a significant open space. Its importance justifies a presumption against development.” If anything the importance of the MOL has increased as nature took over during 22 years of total neglect by the football club leaseholders.

Would ignoring the precedent prompt a judicial review if council officers recommended approval?

Also because the minimum dimensions of a new stadium are much bigger than the existing AstroTurf area, requiring a 10foot wall to prevent people watching for free from the higher land.

We have a right to expect a little more thought from the committee about the realities. Hamman was critical about the then management of the club, when attendance was “250 to 350”. It is now an average of 1,250 a game rising to more than 2,500 for a number of games, which should guarantee a viable future for the club, along with the ancillary rise in bar sales.

Yet a Hadley consultant said recently that the club debts now totalled about £400,000. This compares with the £150,000 when Hadley took over.

Jonathan Hunt, Champion Hill SE5

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