Councillors approve a 30 per cent hike in cost of a Fenland burial plot

Eastwood Cemetery, March.

Eastwood Cemetery, March. - Credit: Archant

PLANS to increase burial fees by almost 30 per cent have been approved by a council’s scrutiny committee.

Cemetery in Cemetery Road Whittlesey.

Cemetery in Cemetery Road Whittlesey. - Credit: Archant

PLANS to increase burial fees by almost 30 per cent have been approved by a council’s scrutiny committee.

Fenland District Council is expected to approve the committee’s recommendation on Thursday.

It means a burial plot in Fenland now costing £440 will, after April 1, cost £575, and for non residents, the fee will rise from £660 to £1,150.

Speaking at Monday’s overview and scrutiny meeting, Councillor John Clark, portfolio holder for finance, defended the proposal, which had been described by Mark Turner, senior partner of undertakers Turner and Sons of March, as “taxing the dead”.

Cllr Clark said: “We are not asking to make a profit out of cemeteries; we are just planning to create a break-even service.

“Although we are putting up the rate we see it as fair.

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“We had not put up the rate for several years. Perhaps we should have put it up sooner,”

The current fees for an interment in Fenland are £440 for residents and £660 for non-residents, while King’s Lynn and West Norfolk charges £760 for a resident and £1,520 for a non-resident.

New fees would mean a charge of £575 for an interment next year, and another £575 for a burial plot.

Fenland Council also plan a new charge of £60 per visit to be accompanied by a member of staff to choose a plot.

Councillor Virginia Bucknor expressed concerns about the impact of the fee increases on the less privileged members of the Fenland community.

She said: “Those people with insurance can afford it but people without money can’t and are now going to find even greater challenges because we hiked it up such a lot.”

The council is looking to cut its expenditure by £1.3m over the next two years, because its government grant is expected to be cut by £324,000 next year and by a further £1.042m, in 2014/15.

Councillor Gavin Booth suggested the fee increase could have been staggered over a period of several years.

He said: “We could have increased the rate over two or three years so that there was not such a large increase for people to absorb in one go.”

But Councillor Peter Murphy said Cllr Booth’s idea would still leave Fenland trailing behind other districts.

He said: “Unfortunately we are so far behind other districts that we would never catch up in increments therefore it’s best to catch up all at once.”

Cllr Clark added that introducing a staggered increase would deprive the council of income and create a shortfall in finances elsewhere.

He said: “If we took this approach it would just create more economic pressures somewhere else.”

Councillor Will Sutton revealed he was initially hostile to the fee increase but, after looking into the matter further, he changed his mind.

He said: “I initially thought it was a crazy idea but looking at the figures of other districts I support what the finance team has done.”

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