To consider the report of the Director (LD) (reference 19/28).
Jonathan Bramley, Environment and Regulation Manager presented a progress report on implementing the Council’s policy on memorial decorations at the crematorium and cemeteries it owns and manages..
He explained that although a policy existed it had not been enforced previously for various reasons. However, issues had been identified (mainly at Woodlands with 400 ‘breaches’ and, to a lesser degree, Larpool) that some people were placing inappropriate decorations on their cemetery / crematoria plots or failing to maintain them well.
This led to an Action Plan focusing on promoting educational awareness including on-site posters/leaflets (and on the web), media publicity and using social media plus any necessary enforcement of the policy. More freedom had been allowed concerning the plots of children who had passed away.
The Action Plan had been endorsed by Overview and Scrutiny then approved by Cabinet in December 2017.
Jonathan Bramley reported that an online petition had also been received which was concerned about development of a policy but only secured the support of three people and did not recognise that a policy already existed and ensuring appropriate enforcement was the operational concern.
He added that a corporate complaints process existed with service management reviewing cases individually and two cases had been to the Ombudsman. Complaints were all considered carefully and took time.
He explained that the report reviewed Action Plan progress, its effectiveness in terms of making people more aware of what was permitted and their responsibilities thereby reducing incidents. The report included a proposed Action Plan for 2019 including rolling forward any uncompleted actions.
The current approach, through the Action Plan, was to help ensure that straight-forward information was available and promoted and policy applied fairly, proportionately and sensitively so that people were aware of:
· The range of ways (decorations etc.) that they could adorn their cemetery / crematoria plots (on council managed land);
· Expectations of them to maintain/replace decorations as appropriate;
· What items were not permitted and the communications approach to alerting them of issues prior to any removal action (‘enforcement’).
Jonathan Bramley reported that the Action Plan provided for a staged approach focusing on the oldest areas first, where there were generally less breaches, and moving on to the newer areas where there tended to be more breaches. Work would commence at Woodlands from the current month, January through to March removing overgrown or unsightly plants, trees, shrubbery.
The previous year had seen the start of educational awareness and publicity etc. with some maintenance work but then holidays and some staff illness had impacted upon progress.
Members queried the age of plots and why the work was not starting with the newer areas where there were more breaches. They added that winter was a sparse time for gardeners, i.e. good time to tackle all breaches.
They were informed that it was appropriate to start works at a particular point and staff resources did not allow for a big sweep of work. The older areas dated back mainly to the 1940s/50s so were less likely to have relatives regularly on-site but nevertheless proportionate efforts would be made to contact them before any works. Newer sites would involve written / other communications to give relatives a chance to sort out plots as they wished first otherwise enforcement actions would be pursued.
Members welcomed the approach and sensitive management and noted that other land-owners operated similar education and light-touch’ enforcement policies, e.g. churches. They sought assurance that relevant staff had received appropriate training for liaising with vulnerable people at sensitive times. They also wanted to maintain the flexible approach at children’s plots. They were informed that staff had developed significant skills through experience for working with people in difficult situations. Staff also attended relevant trade association courses and good feedback had been received from the public. Assurance was given that a sensitive approach would be maintained concerning children.
Resolved - That the progress be noted and Action Plan for 2019 endorsed.