Ahead of next week's public meeting to discuss our local cemeteries I just wanted to explain some of the background to the current situation.
There was a very extensive consultation on the cemeteries in 2012. The consensus was that people wanted the council to continue to offer burial space in the borough. I personally don't agree with this knowing the huge existing pressure on land but the point of the consultation was to listen and plan our future policy on peoples' views. Many options like out of town burial were explored as part of this process.
As ward councillors we all thought it vitally important to protect Honor Oak Rec. This is a green space used by local residents and also used by local schools and football clubs. Whilst I think many parts of Camberwell Old are beautiful and a haven for wildlife I think that sensitive reuse of parts of the cemetery which allow us to protect Honor Oak Rec are worth pursuing. All three of us are also committed to protecting the land immediately behind Ryedale at Camberwell Old as I do think burials this would have an impact on the houses that back onto it and the alternative of planting a screen would mean a loss of light for these residents.
What we proposed in 2012 was that instead we brought forward plans to bring back into use 'Site Z' at Camberwell Old. This is a site that is currently closed to the public because of the huge amount of dumping that has taken place on the site. The great majority of the trees on the boundary will be protected and further planting will be done.
Many other mature tree of merit away from the boundary are been protected and plans have been worked up around them. Many of the ones that are going (and every single one that I queried when visiting yesterday) have been covered with 1-2 metres of the dumping. This means their likely lifespan is only 10 years at most. It will be a massive operation to remove all the dumping from the site and this includes toxic waste. Doing this and creating new grave space means the area can be opened up to the public. Given the protection of the boundary and the commitment to new planting means that a quality new green space will be created.
The most beautiful oaks are being protected, there is a plan for a peaceful sitting area around one and with the right planning this will be a beautiful area with stunning views over the city. I have attached some pictures of 'site Z' to show the poor quality of the 'woods' there. Much of it is buddleia which reduces biodiversity. In the picture with brambles and trees in the distance, the ones in the distance stay, it's the area of bramble that is being cleared. I was there with an ecologist and a tree expert yesterday. Both agreed that we were protecting the important bits of the nature and our plans would help other nature flourish.
I do feel more reluctant about the gladed area of the cemetery - the 'H' sites. Part of the coppicing work that will take place here will help protect the existing trees and increase the biodiversity of the area but in my heart of heart I would prefer that after this work was done the sites were protected as woodland. However, to get to a stage of being able to reuse our existing cemeteries we do need to use these spaces. To me, it's therefore making sure that we do our best to protect the character of what is there - protecting all the trees we can, looking at what new graves might look like, what additional planting is possible and the possibility of reusing of the old headstones to preserve the character of the area.
On Camberwell New, it does seem that some people involved in the campaign group have reached the point of not accepting we should ever cut down any tree ever, for any reason. The main new site at Camberwell New is a concrete slab that can't currently be accessed by the public. The smaller additional site would mean the loss of a few poor quality trees on the edge of grass/lawn area on a slope that hasn't been used - 13 trees is the number given. This spot is right on the edge of the wooded boundary of the cemetery (all protected) and One Tree Hill (a stunning wooded background and all protected obviously). The feeling of the wooded edge of the cemetery will still be retained and this piece of lawn can be brought into use. Again I visited yesterday and felt no concern that the character of the cemetery or the neighbouring nature reserve would be affected.
I think what we're trying to do is find the best balance possible. I feel that a very extensive consultation took place in 2012 - I went to meetings with 150 people attending etc. We tried to find our way to the best outcome and compromise. What would be good now would be residents looking at how we can implement these plans as sensitively as possible and looking at what is actually being proposed. I'm not sure that claiming that Southwark Council is 'destroying forests' is the best way to have that debate - I'm sorry if others feel otherwise but I've always felt that it's best to be honest when you disagree with the views of others.