Members of the public heckled Southwark councillors at a meeting last night as they met to discuss creating thousands of new grave plots in Southwark at the expense of green spaces within Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries.
The Save Southwark Woods campaign turned out in force last night to deliver their deputation and petition of 8,500 signatures to the full council assembly. They are opposing the council’s new burial strategy because they say it will destroy woodland which has naturally matured in the borough’s cemeteries.
Their protest started cheerfully, with a group of musicians serenading campaigners outside the council headquarters in Tooley Street. But once inside, emotions boiled over with accusations of deception, incompetance and class discrimination flying around the council chamber.
Southwark resident and undertaker, Gary Valentine Fuller and Lucy Cope, who has two sons buried in the borough, followed the Save Southwark Woods deputation and talked about the importance of keeping grave spaces within the borough for the bereaved.
Both presentations sparked a heated debate on whether the council or the Save Southwark Woods campaign truly represent a cross section of the borough’s population. The council was accused of not carrying out a full consultation in 2011, which only had responses from a few hundred Southwark residents, and the campaigners were accused of having “something against working class families wanting to be buried in the borough” by Cllr Lorraine Lauder.
Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Southwark’s cabinet member for public health, parks and leisure, gave a passionate defence of the council’s plans, listing members of his own ‘working class’ family who have been buried in Southwark while being heckled by an equally passionate Lewis Schaffer, the Nunhead Radio presenter and woodland defender.
Liberal Democrat Councillor, James Barber, raised the concern that the council’s plan will only create enough graves to allow burial within the borough for the next ten years and then the council will need to look at using other green spaces or buying plots outside of the borough.
The Southwark Liberal Democrats put forward a motion to hold a wider public consultation on the council’s plans before it proceeds, but Labour councillors (who make up the majority on Southwark council) voted against that proposal – a decision which was met with a mixture of cheers and boos from the public gallery.