Oxford City Council is planning to reclaim unused graves in order to alleviate a growing shortage of grave space within the city.
Cemetery space for new graves is declining and no land in Oxford is currently available for a new cemetery, though the Council continues to search for this. Grave reclamation may provide a temporary solution.
Current estimates show that all cemeteries in Oxford will be closed to new graves by 2021. This is based on current burial rates within Oxford, which mirror the national trend of 20 per cent of people opting for burial and 80 per cent for cremation.
Botley is the only cemetery currently available to new graves.
The initial plan is to bring into use grave plots on which burial rights were bought but which were never used, and on which the deeds have now expired. These are known as heritage graves. The rights relating to these plots must have been granted before 1 April 1974*.
The Council will also investigate the reclamation of graves where interments have taken place but the burial rights have never been purchased. The grave is re-opened to the deepest available depth leaving the legal requirement of 6” of soil between the last interment and the new interment. It is important to note that this does not disturb human remains – as would be the case with grave re-use.
Head of Community Services, Ian Brooke, said: "As cemetery space becomes harder to find it's important that we examine all of the options. These proposals offer a solution that means the Council will be able to continue to offer a service into the future while still investigating the possibility of finding suitable land for a new cemetery."
The Council will make all reasonable effort to contact anyone who has bought a plot on which the deeds have elapsed before reusing the plot. The Council will notify the deed holder in writing of their intention to reclaim the grave within six months. If the deed holder is not contactable the Council will place a notice on the grave and publish a notice in the local newspaper, in line with the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977.
The proposals for grave reclamation will be considered by the City Council Cabinet on 29 May.