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Posts Tagged ‘wood grange park’

While most eyes are naturally on the Election Court hearing the sometimes idiosyncratic business of Tower Hamlets council carries on.

On February 4, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet met to discuss the question that has been a battle cry among some for almost a decade – a cemetery for Tower Hamlets.

As with most if not all inner London boroughs, there isn’t one. After plans to reopen Mile End’s deconsecrated Tower Hamlets Cemetery as a multi faith burial ground were roundly squashed in 2007, this issue has been a hardy election and petition perennial.

Respect pushed it particularly hard when they were a force under their own name and it has been something that Lutfur, aware of a grassroots demand, has been trying to deliver since he became mayor in 2010.

The obvious problem is that in inner London there is no space. Council officers have been trying to find solutions for years.

I last wrote about it here in 2013 when I reported that Lutfur had authorised a budget of £3m to find somewhere north east of the borough and “within the M25”.

Almost two years on, we learn from the report presented to cabinet this month that these efforts have come to nothing. Their attempts at doing a deal have collapsed after worries about the vendor’s ability to deliver planning permission.

It means that an unspecified amount has been wasted on legal fees, according to the cabinet paper.

But fear not, we’re told in councilspeak, because these costs will be recouped by savings they think they’re going to make on a deal with another cemetery they’ve located.

That cabinet paper notes the council is under no legal obligation to provide a burial site. It also says that under current arrangements, the council provides a £225 subsidy to families wanting to bury their loved ones – mainly at the City of London and Woodgrange Park cemeteries in Manor Park, and the Muslim Gardens of Peace cemetery in Hainault.

Burial plots aren’t cheap. A new private grave at City of London can cost £2,200 plus service fees; at Gardens of Peace, the charge is more like £2,700.

The demand for council subsidies and/or a longer term solution is understandable in somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

So it would be interesting to know how many people would agree with the proposals agreed at cabinet.

What proposals, you ask. Well, if you were to examine the cabinet report you wouldn’t know. The council hid the details in part 2 of its agenda, the “pink papers” section of the meeting that excludes the press and public on the grounds of apparent “commercial confidentiality”.

Perhaps you can be the judge of the merits of that. Here are those leaked pink papers:

And here’s my summary.

The cabinet has agreed to buy three acres of land at Kemnall Park Cemetery in Chislehurt, in the borough of Bromley…for £3m. The report states this is enough land for 3,000 burial plots, which they reckon will be filled within 15 years (at 200 plots a year).

Kemnal Park is an existing private cemetery, just off the A20.

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The council reckons it would take about 25minutes for people in Tower Hamlets to drive there. That may be so for the zombies of Mulberry Place, but as the more alert well know the travel time back northbound through the Blackwall Tunnel is usually far longer.

At 4.30pm this afternoon the journey time from Whitechapel, according to Google maps was about 40minutes.

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Anyhow, I’m not sure that’s the main issue (and there’s perhaps a wider one about maintaining links to east London. Manor Park and Hainault certainly do that).

Here are the finances.

As well as the £3m capital cost, there seems to have been something of a disagreement between officers and Lutfur on ongoing annual revenue expenditure.

Officers wanted to recoup this £3m by making an annual profit from the selling of graves. Under the officers’ proposal, the council would commit to buying 200 plots each year over 15 years at a cost of £1,000 each.

Officers calculated that if they then charged residents £2,237 for each burial fee, the cost to the taxpayer over 15 years would then be zero.

However, paragraph 7.7 of the leaked report reveals that Lutfur wanted to charge just £650 per burial, citing Waltham Forest council’s policy as an example. According to officers’ calculations, running at a loss in that way would mean an extra ongoing cost to the taxpayer of £70,000 a year.

Adjusted for inflation over the 15 year term, that would be an average of £83k per annum. In total, the capital and revenue costs together would be £3.8m.

Is that vale for money?

Is this something money should be spent on? What is the opportunity cost, what else could/should this be spent on?

What do you think?

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