Labour councillors should ditch their plans to build on Southwark Woods in Nunhead and start a new consultation process on where more burial space should be provided, say the borough's Liberal Democrats.
In 2011 Labour-controlled Southwark council consulted on its new burial strategy, but is only now implementing one of the key recommendations on increasing the number of graves in the borough. The Council wants to fell existing trees in the protected woodlands at Camberwell Old Cemetery and build over 2,000 new graves there instead.
The plans have provoked outrage and a major community campaign to save the woodland from being destroyed has been launched. Southwark Liberal Democrats have met with local residents and campaigners against the Council’s proposals on-site to see first hand the impact the plans to build new graves would have on the woodlands.
Southwark Liberal Democrat councillors have highlighted several concerns about the 2011 consultation. These include that the woodlands and trees affected were not covered in the consultation and that it was carried out four years ago; that the majority of respondents were not Southwark residents; that no clearly defined costs for the various options were outlined; and how the impact on the woodlands and number of trees to be axed was not mentioned.
The Council continues to insist that it will carry out its plans despite widespread community opposition. In a last-ditch attempt to stop the destruction of the woodlands, opposition Liberal Democrat councillors have tabled a motion for debate at the next council assembly meeting on 8 July. The motion calls on the Council to:
- carry out a review of the existing cemeteries strategy to investigate the impact on woodland and whether there are more cost-effective and less harmful alternatives.
- ensure all councillors involved in the scrutiny process visit the woodland.
- conduct a new consultation exercise to explore how to protect and enhance the woodland and wildlife in this area and to ask specifically whether new burial spaces should be provided within the borough.
Southwark Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Councillor Anood Al-Samerai, said:
“Finding new burial space is a challenge for all London councils and we all understand that it is a sensitive issue. However, the Labour council is not listening to local residents who have raised serious concerns about the plans to fell so many trees in protected woodland to create over 2,000 new graves.
“The 2011 consultation that the Council is basing its plans on is also out-of-date and flawed. How can it be right that the majority of respondents did not even live in Southwark?
“The Camberwell Old Cemetery woodland is a Grade 1 site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation and councillors have a duty to protect heritage and nature for future generations. Labour councillors should not be bulldozing through their plans for 2,000 new graves without a thought for the local environment.
“There is no legal obligation for the Council to provide burial space within the borough. Nine out of 13 inner London boroughs have no plans to create new graves. Southwark could just as easily put new graves for local residents at Kemnal Park in Bromley, just as Tower Hamlets council has done recently.
“Liberal Democrat councillors will try to make the Council see sense and save these trees before it’s too late. Southwark should not lose yet another piece of its precious environmental treasure just because the Labour council won’t listen.”