Swale Borough Council set to ‘run out of cemetery space in 10 years’

Swale Borough Council set to ‘run out of cemetery space in 10 years’

One county in Kent will run out of public cemetery space in the next decade, official papers say.

Documents produced by Swale Borough Council (SBC) say its sites in Faversham, Sittingbourne, Sheerness and Sheppey “currently only have 10 years of burial capacity”.

Swale Borough Council officials say they are working to create a long-term plan for burial sites in the area. picture in stock

And officials speaking at an Environment Committee meeting last week revealed that there is only one agency-owned cemetery left with space.

“We don’t have any more in Sittingbourne or Sheppey,” an official told councillors.

“Currently, all new burial sites are being made available in Iwade.”

Local authorities are not legally required to operate cemeteries or provide burial sites, but SBC does so in Sittingbourne, Sheppey, Murston, Faversham and Iwade.

The revelation prompted Boughton and Courtenay Councilor Tim Valentine to urge officials to “consider a natural burial ground”.

These types of ceremonies do not involve setting a tombstone or embalming a body.

Biodegradable coffins are used instead, and burials take place in a meadow rather than a well-kept cemetery.

Proponents argue that they are more environmentally friendly than traditional burials because the body is allowed to decompose naturally and a tree is often planted in place of a headstone.

Cllr Valentine (Greens) told members: “Then you can have a burial site that becomes a wooded area and contributes to our long-term climate emergency agenda.

“I fully accept the point that the advice may not matter, but when we talk about additional burials we should also consider natural burials.

Cllr Tim Valentine (Green) for Boughton and Courtenay. Image: Swale Borough Council

“I think there’s a demand in the community.”

Swale already has natural burial sites – one on Deerton Street near Sittingbourne which is sold out and another on Riverview between Newington and Lower Halstow.

After the meeting, Cllr Valentine added: “It’s a burial ground, but instead of planting memorials and headstones, they’re planting trees.

“Eventually it would turn into a wooded area and if you like you can go where your loved ones are and wander through a pleasant wooded area rather than a graveyard as we envision it.

“We want to plant more forest for the climate emergency.”

Rosie Inman-Cook, Manager of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds, helped set up the Deerton Street site in 2007 – the first of its kind in Kent.

She thinks natural burials should be seen as a mainstream alternative as “councils always claim they are running out of space”.

Ms Inman-Cook argues that through conventional cremation, “your last act on the planet is vandalism”.

“Cremation not only releases pollution, but also releases the carbon from your body and your coffin right where it’s not needed,” she said.

“The funeral industry loves cremations and I would suspect councils do too because they don’t take up space.”

“We currently have enough burial space for at least 10 years, which gives us time to plan longer term…”

While she says that traditional burials are more environmentally friendly than cremation, she emphasizes that “natural burial causes naturalization” because the land can be used “many times over.”

A spokesman for the county council says the agency will shortly begin planning for future land allocation.

“We currently have enough burial space for at least 10 years, which gives us time to plan for the longer term,” he said.

“We are now in the early stages of work on developing a strategy outlining how we will approach the longer-term provision of burial sites.

“This way we can take all the necessary precautions in a timely manner.”

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