Town's graves can be reused under new law

A gravestone in a cemetery
A new law gives Bishop's Stortford Town Council powers to “lift and deepen” graves in its Old Cemetery and New Cemetery if those plots are at least 75 years old

A town has become the first outside of London where graves on unconsecrated land can be reused.

The Bishop's Stortford Cemetery Act became law on Wednesday.

It gives Bishop's Stortford Town Council powers to "lift and deepen" graves in the Hertfordshire town's Old Cemetery and New Cemetery if those plots are at least 75 years old.

This involves digging up the remains in an existing grave, digging that grave to a greater depth, and then re-interring the remains, sometimes in a new coffin.

The rest of the grave could be used for fresh burials, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

London borough councils already have similar powers, through the London Local Authorities Act 2007.

The new law also gives the town council the power to extinguish people’s right of burial, if a person has not exercised that right for at least 75 years.

Council staff must tell the owners of a right of burial if they plan to extinguish it.

They must also place a notice close to the grave, online and in a newspaper six months before disturbing human remains or removing a right of burial.

A relative can object to the plans once they are declared, which puts a 25-year hold on the authority taking any action.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which looks after the graves of people who died in the two world wars, can also object to the reuse of graves.

The authority had feared running out of cemetery spaces by the mid-2030s without new powers.

A spokesperson for the council said: “If people come and object in line with the law, that’s not a problem to us.

“We are pleased that this solves a problem in perpetuity.”

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