Agenda item

Crematory and Cemeteries

To receive and discuss the Cementaries and Crematorium report which informs the Scrutiny Committee of the opportunities and current/future challenges that exist within the cemetery service that is within the Environment Directorate. 


The Scrutiny Board received a report of the Director of Environment which informed members of the opportunities and current/future challenges that exist within the cemetery service that was is within the Council’s Environment Directorate. The report outlined the current approach to addressing these challenges, as well as the future plans being devised while continuing to provide a high level of service to residents during, what is often, a stressful and difficult time in their lives. 


The report outlined the Service’s approach towards ensuring the following:

a.    Future burial capacity that meets all residents needs

b.    Ensuring a consistent approach to memorials and headstones at all graveyards

c.    Tackling the risk of flooding at cemeteries

d.    Ensuring the service meets the needs of all the residents in terms of access/out of hours burials

e.    Ensure that upgrades of cremators are made in a timely manner for continued compliance with legal requirements


The meeting was informed that Oldham Council manages seven cemeteries and one crematorium, which is situated with Hollinwood Cemetery and, in all, serves a population of approximately 240,000. During 2022, 470 full interments, 151 cremated remains interments and 1,726 cremations were carried out. The cemetery service provides burials out of normal working hours, covering weekends, Bank Holidays, and evenings (until dusk).  During 2022/23, 33 evening and 33 weekend/bank holiday burials took place.


In terms of burial capacity there was currently 39 years of remaining burial capacity borough wide, but officers were aware that work had to be undertaken to ensure future capacity. Chadderton Cemetery had available land that could be developed, potentially adding a further 20 years of burial space.   In addition, the Service was working with the Council’s Planning Services to identify other sites that could be developed to provide future burial capacity. It was noted that it was important to identify these sites as part of the Local Plan. Once suitable sites could be identified, there would be a requirement to undertake initial design and planning work to enable this land to be utilised as a burial site. The same approach will be undertaken at other sites boroughwide where additional land has been identified but requires development and assessment before use.  The Service would ensure that sites would be brought into use in a timely manner so that there is capacity moving forward.   


All Memorial placements and Headstones had to have the prior agreement of the Council and there was a criterion that must be met – this related to the size/dimension/materials and fixing methods of the stonework and any planting on graves.  However, there were instances in which permitted sizes have been exceeded. This has resulted in access problems to ensure maintenance and has, on occasion, also prevented visitors to adjacent graves from being able to access the area.


The issue of flooding was also a national problem, largely caused by standing water across all areas after periods of heavy rain.  This was also an issue in some of the Borough’s cemeteries where, after prolonged or heavy rain, there would be some standing water over graves.  The water does dissipate relatively quickly but this issue has been raised more frequently in recent years.


The meeting was advised that the Service provides ‘out of hours’ access for burials, which was available for all residents of Oldham.  However, it was mainly used by the Muslim community given their religious requirement to bury the deceased as soon as practically and legally possible.  As a result, the Service works closely with Muslim Funeral Services in Oldham to ensure a timely and suitable provision. Where out of hours access is needed (evenings, weekends and bank holidays), this did not carry an extra charge to cover the costs of service provision outside of normal working hours. The ‘out of hours’ fees charged by Oldham were commensurate with the works completed and comparable regionally.  Based on current figures, Oldham was the fourth cheapest, with six other authorities in Greater Manchester charging more for their ’out of hours’ access. 


The Crematorium’s three cremators were nearing the end of life and due to be replaced within the next 2-5 years.  This was to ensure they continued to operate efficiently and to comply with legislative requirements for mercury abatement.  A replacement programme would have to be carefully managed to ensure service provision and capacity, both to meet resident and budget needs.  A separate report outlining the course of action as well as timelines for replacement was currently being produced and would go through necessary consultation before procurement/replacement could commence.



1.    The Scrutiny Board notes the main areas of concern around burial capacity, identified in the report and supports the proposed course of action, to remedy the matters concerned.

2.    The Scrutiny Board recommends that the Service develops a more consistent approach towards the development of a policy for memorials and headstones.

3.    The Board notes the proposed compliance led approach towards memorial stones.

4.    The Board notes the programme of works and interventions with regards to flooding, ‘out of hours’ access/fees and the cremator replacement programme.

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