Britain running out of cemetery space

(Photo: Nat Arnett)

The shortage of cemetery space in Britain has become so serious the dead may need to be reburied in deeper graves to make more room, Parliament has heard.

The Conservative MP for Totnes, Dr Sarah Wollaston, is urging council and church cemeteries to allow older graves to be dug up for use for new graves.

"In Kingsbridge in my constituency, there are only 16 places left," she explained.

"I feel that it is best to deal with this before we reach the point where there is nowhere left.

"All the measures available have been instituted, such as using plots that have not been taken up and clearing extra ground in cemeteries, but we are now reaching a critical shortage, and I gather that the situation is repeated around the country.

"Although this is an uncomfortable question and of course no one likes the idea of having to reuse plots. The reality is: what is the alternative?"

While churches in London are permitted to use older graves thanks to an emergency law passed in 2007, the new legislation does not affect the country as a whole.

Tory MP and Church Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry said there was "something of a lacuna in the legislation about who is responsible for making provision for new cemeteries".

"In my constituency, in Bicester, there are difficulties. Land around the towns is valuable as development land — farmers and landowners are not keen to give up land for new burial grounds — and it can be quite a challenge for district or town councils to provide new burial space," he said.  

Some local authorities have already needed to repurpose car parks as cemeteries in order to keep up with demand.

Tim Morris, the head of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said in the Daily Mail that none of the other options were realistic: "If the public are to continue to have access to local and affordable burial space, there is no alternative to the re-use of old, abandoned graves."

In Scotland the consequences of shortages have been seen in the form of dramatic price rises, with some areas seeing jumps in price of 300 per cent for church cemetery places in recent years.

The Ministry of Justice has said the issue is "under constant review".