BY TOBY PORTER
Families whose relatives are buried in a graveyard are furious it is being landscaped, sweeping aside their memorials.
They are also fuming that town hall officials only contacted them, they claim, when the work was already started at Honor Oak Crematorium, which is part of Camberwell New Cemetery in Brenchley Gardens.
Scores of memorials are affected in bed 80. Relatives are complaining to staff about having to make new arrangements to mark the graves or tributes to their loved ones.
But Southwark council insists it is the only way to make sure there is enough room to bury all the borough’s deceased residents.
The controversy comes after months of fury among conservationists at plans to bury bodies by cutting down trees in Camberwell Old Cemetery Woods to create the space.
Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries said: “We need these wild sanctuaries of natural beauty which provide places to walk, explore, and find peace and quiet, as well as for their history and the wildlife we can enjoy there.”
Now families are fuming that memorial they paid for are being wiped out.
Janet Priestnall, whose parents Francis and Joyce Priestnall are remembered there with a tree in Bed 80, said: “I am so distressed over this.
The council plans to desecrate people’s remains. Asking people to contact them to discuss a matter when officials have already decided the issue is despicable.
“I strongly feel that they are riding roughshod over people’s feelings. I contacted the cemeteries department last month to discuss the issue, only to find that the plan is already under way and the works will commence in October.
“When I asked to speak to the person handling this I was told they were on leave. “How convenient for them to be away when the letters were sent out, leaving the office staff to deal with the incoming calls of which I was told there were many.
“I myself was extremely upset at the thought of my parents’ remains being disturbed in this manner as I am sure was everyone else who had a memorial in bed 80.
“The crematorium was in contact on September 27 by phone and has confirmed that the upheaval will go ahead regardless of my wishes or those of other people affected by the works.
“The whole crematorium is dotted with signs on most of the beds asking people to contact the office to discuss the issue. “Why they bother to do this when the plans are already in place baffles me.
“They have already gone to law to find their rights regarding ashes and assured me I have no legal claim to the place where my parents remains are, unlike a burial site.”
Her parents were born and lived in Peckham and she lived there until she retired two years ago after her father passed away in 2015 – her mum was the first to be interred there in 2003.
Their ashes were laid to rest with a rose tree. But these will now be moved.
Now living in Hampshire, she still regularly visits the crematorium. “Why is there any need to disturb this bed when there are plenty of other unused areas at the crematorium?” she said. “For instance, the overgrown, green slimed pond on the other side of the road to Bed 80.
“Nobody can go there as it is so dank and smelly. No benches are placed there to sit, so might this not be an opportunity to fill in this unused pond, clean up the area and use that as the proposed area for reflection.
“At the same time this would improve an eyesore without causing distress to the people whose love ones are going to be dug up and moved heavens knows where.
“It had given my father peace of mind to know where he would be resting.
“But the council has now taken away any comfort I had in knowing this. I dread to think where they will know be cramming their rose tree.”
Another family member whose mother passed away is Nichola Carroll, who tweeted: “I’m disgusted that @lb_southwark have decided to relocate my mums memorial at #honoroakcrematorium Is anyone else affected? It’s a special place for my family and we pay for it to be there.”
Councillor Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for environment, transport management and air quality, said: “Work is ongoing to improve Honor Oak Crematorium and create new burial and memorial space for the future, as well as creating a more pleasant, peaceful and well-maintained site for families, but we are very aware that this work can have an impact on people who visit the memorials of loved ones in this location.
“We are doing our best to respond to any concerns and we are very sorry for any upset this causes.”