Council may charge bereaved over falling headstones

Vandalised headstones in St Martin's New Cemetery, Haddington. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Vandalised headstones in St Martin's New Cemetery, Haddington. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Bereaved families are set to be charged for the maintenance of new headstones.

East Lothian Council is considering the introduction of a “management fee” to help contribute towards the local authority’s long-term responsibility for safety and structural upkeep.

The move has been prompted by concerns over the condition of around 8000 headstones in the county’s cemeteries, with officials wanting to ensure the health and safety of visitors and employees within burial grounds.

A management fee of £100 was proposed in papers presented to the council’s cabinet on Tuesday.

The council requires to inspect headstones on a minimum three-year cycle and carry out repairs to any stone found to present a danger of collapse. But dilapidated headstones and acts of vandalism are adding to council costs. Often ownership of the damaged headstones cannot be verified.

Welcoming the management fee proposal, Councillor Peter MacKenzie said: “We need to regard these headstones as very precious ‘documents in stone’ and many will be gone forever if we do not care for them. In Prestongrange churchyard, the condition of the gravestones is not good and many have been vandalised and they need to be re-stabilised.”

Councillors endorsed a burial ground strategy for East Lothian, mindful that the county is struggling to find suitable burial space. To meet a minimum 50-year demand, there is a need for 13,500 lairs, but officials estimate that the requirement to find development sites for 10,000 houses could add 5000 more to the total.

Cllr Norman Hampshire said: “We are now under real pressure because a number of our cemeteries have very little capacity and people want to be buried in their own community.”