Southwark has returned fire after it was accused of removing war memorials from a cemetery and ‘dumping’ them in a carpark.
The Save Southwark Woods campaign, who are fighting to protect naturally occurring woodland in the borough’s cemeteries from being destroyed to create thousands of new burial spaces, accused the council of leaving the “important historic monuments” to Southwark’s war dead lying unprotected in Camberwell Old Cemetery.
Speaking to the News, Councillor Darren Merrill, cabinet member for environment and public realm, said the monuments have been “temporarily removed for important restoration work” after the 1.5metre-high headstones began to lean and had to be fenced off. “We’re working to ensure that the cemetery is a safe place for all visitors and to prevent injuries caused by falling debris,” he said.
Fifteen memorials will be restored in total. The work on the first six is now underway and will take approximately six weeks at which point Cllr Merrill says they will be restored to their former position.
After a heated debate at a council meeting on July 8 in which Southwark received a petition of 8,500 signatures to block their proposals, Save Southwark Woods campaigner Lewis Schaffer said he was “hopping mad” to find out the council had already applied to the church diocese to go ahead with their plans weeks beforehand.
“They are making a mockery of democratic processes and totally disrespecting the people of Southwark,” said Lewis. “To pretend they were listening to the people and the petition, to other elected councillors, when they had already applied for planning, is that even legal?”
Cllr Merrill admitted the council had submitted an application to the church “to ensure that relevant permissions were in place as part of this on-going process”, he did not believe this rendered the council debate a sham.
“Council Assembly provided an opportunity for councillors to hear from campaigners and stakeholders and to debate the issue openly and publicly, which is precisely what happened at the meeting,” he said, adding that the council’s burial strategy has been in development for the last four years and is an ongoing process, which could have been withdrawn or amended as a result of the debate.