North Herts cemeteries decision suspended

THE future of district cemeteries will remain uncertain for a while longer, as a council this week decided to suspend a policy which will see all body burials in North Herts moved to Letchworth GC.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) agreed the original policy in January to prohibit full body burials at Hitchin, Baldock and Royston cemeteries, and had agreed in September last year to make Letchworth GC the district cemetery.

But at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, councillors voted to suspend the policy and delegate the decision-making on each individual cemetery to strategic director for customer services, John Robinson, in consultation with portfolio holder for waste and recycling, Cllr Peter Burt, following last minute recommendations.

It also agreed to consult Hitchin and Baldock area committees on what they thought would be best for individual towns.

Letchworth GC’s Wilbury Hills will still remain the district cemetery, with Mr Robinson and Cllr Burt’s decision relating primarily to when burials should be moved, and what could be done in the meantime.

Cllr Terry Hone, portfolio holder for finance, said: “I’m very keen that, first of all, our policy which we have is adhered to.

“I also agree that area committees are involved in the process. But I think what we are trying to do is realising that, ultimately, Wilbury Hills is North Herts’ cemetery.”

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In Hitchin, the timing of when to divert burials to Wilbury Hills will be considered as will whether St John’s Cemetery should be allowed to reach full capacity first before having services moved to the Letchworth GC cemetery.

It will also have to be decided whether cremated remains continue to be buried within the existing ashes section in the cemetery, or whether it should be moved to areas already used for burials. A remembrance garden could also be created, if funding is available.

In Baldock, similar options are being considered. The timing will also be decided, with an option on whether the cemetery should first be allowed to reach full capacity using smaller areas of ground for the burial of cremated remains to be considered.

No date was given for these decisions to be made.

Mr Robinson said: “It’s emerged that each town is responding in a local manner, which is why the area committees will be consulted. “We are trying to determine whether any organisation has any additional capacity. We held a consultation, which has resulted in three formal proposals being put forward.”

Those opportunities have been put forward by private organisations and parish councils. Ashwell Parish Council is exploring the possibility of extending its churchyard for the village’s benefit, with St Mary’s Church in Baldock also looking at exploring further possibilities.

A private organisation - Cemetery Development Services - is also offering to develop a cemetery with a crematorium as a commercial venture.

Cllr Peter Burt left the room during the discussion, as his position as a member of Royston Town Council was deemed a conflict of interest. But after the meeting, he issued a statement.

“We have spent a lot of time in discussion with town and parish councils, churches, as well as other organisations regarding this issue,” he said.

“What has become clear is that while the situation regarding the shortage of burial space affects Hitchin, Baldock and Royston in similar ways, the proposed solutions have been very different in each location. That is why Cabinet has now agreed that each area committee should be consulted on the situation in their local area.”