Havering Council accused of failing to ‘recognise needs of Muslims’ over cemetery plans

PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:48 19 July 2016

A man pays his respects at a grave in a Muslim section of a cemetery. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

A man pays his respects at a grave in a Muslim section of a cemetery. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

PA Archive/Press Association Images

A town planning expert accused Havering Council of having a lack of regard toward its Muslim community, during a planning inquiry last week.

Niall Roberts, a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, was speaking on the final day of a public inquiry into an appeal for Gardens of Peace, Ilford, to convert land at Oak Farm, Maylands Fields, Harold Wood, for use as a Muslim burial ground.

Mr Roberts told the hearing, at Havering Town Hall, that there was an increase in the Muslim population in north east London but very little grave capacity.

“The council has a reluctance to recognise the need of the Muslim community,” he said.

Barrister Isabella Tafur, who represented the council said the development would harm the “openness” of the green belt and would adversely impact its purpose - to protect the countryside from encroachment.

Tom McCarthy, a council planning officer, told the inquiry that 50 graves had been reserved at Romford Cemetery for Muslim residents to meet their needs.

But Garden of Peace has already buried 135 Havering Muslim residents which has exceeded that the number of spaces reserved.

The organisation is the only charity in London to bury Muslims without compromise - as soon as possible after death, prayer and ablution facilities, in virgin ground and facing Mecca.

Although people are able to use spaces in the borough’s existing cemeteries they are faced with a lack of choice.

“All of that provision is compromised,” Mr Roberts continued. “There is a high reliance on Gardens of Peace and a decreasing supply of burial space.

“Garden of Peace was established to meet a need. That need has not gone away. It fulfils an important role for the need of Muslim’s in north east London and in other parts.”

Mr Roberts said the council had not put enough significance on providing choice when it refused the application.

Guidelines in the Planning for Burial Space in London state: “It should be a person’s basic right to choose how their body is disposed of.

“Strategic planning must work to help sustain that choice by maintaining the supply of burial space consistent with forecast demand.”

Peter Mitchell who spoke at the hearing about the need choice said: “If I was a Muslim, I would be very distressed if I couldn’t bury someone I loved in the way we wanted to bury them.

“Thirty years ago when I was a grave digger, I asked my boss why am I only digging baby graves he said ‘because when the adults die they go back to Pakistan’ and now 30 years later, people are still looking for a place to go when they die.

“It is terrible, this is their home.”

Mr Roberts added that the proposals met green belt policy and enhanced countryside characteristics.

But under cross examination, he admitted that if planning permission is granted, the development will take up more space than the current site does and will be more visible from residents homes.

Gardens of Peace own the land at the Oak Farm site after outbidding Havering Council at an auction.

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