The disturbance of human remains in burial grounds is to be allowed for the first time since the early Victorian era to deal with a shortage of graves, The Times has learnt.
Under a test scheme to begin in the new year, local authorities across the country will be allowed to exhume remains and rebury them deeper to create space for further burials on top. In some cases, new inscriptions will be added to the existing headstone to ensure that the heritage of the grave is not destroyed. Damaged or insignificant headstones would be removed and replaced with only the new name.
The move comes amid an acute shortage of burial grounds in London and other urban areas, where many cemeteries have already run out of space. It would also ease the difficulty of the disposal of bodies in the event of a pandemic.
Last year a government survey showed that burial grounds in England and Wales will become full in about 30 years. In the capital the shortage is more severe. At least three boroughs have run out of space and some cemeteries have less than a decade left.
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Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemeteries and Crematorium Management and a member of the Government’s burial advisory body, said that only abandoned graves dating back more than 100 years would be considered for reburial under the new scheme.
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“In the cities this is a serious problem and our cemeteries are just not sustainable,” he told The Times. “We need these powers across the country or we are going to have serious disposal problems.”