Reading is running out of grave plots faster than previously predicted, with a higher numbers of burials than expected in recent years.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) expects to run out of burial space in 2029 with the introduction of a new policy banning side-by-side burials.

The council had expected to have capacity for a further three years than that when it voted to convert recreation space into 1,376 burial spots in 2015 but it has run out of space faster than predicted.

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RBC has now put forward new policies, including banning side-by-side grave plots, which are set to go out for public consultation. The council’s Policy committee will vote on whether to approve the consultation on Monday.

But the new policies still leaves the council needing to find additional land for beyond the next eight years.

Why is the council running out cemetery space quicker than expected?

Henley Road Cemetery is the only land the council currently has that is suitable for burials, with two sections having space for new burial plots: Westfield and Mayfield.

The council says there is a reluctance by families to utilise double depth graves, which allow for a second burial, and this is reducing the lifespan of Westfield, where all graves are dug at double depth.

Additionally, burial activity over the last three years and during the pandemic has been significantly higher than the council had predicted when making estimations in in 2015.

In 2018 there were 203 burials, in 2019 there were 207 burials and in 2020, there were 287 burials.

Although these burials were split between Mayfield and Westfield, the increase particularly impacted on Westfield due to the high number of Muslim burials.

The newly-revised projections for the lifespan of the two sites is five years for Westfield and three years for Mayfield if the new policies are introduced, a total of eight years capacity.

There is space for around 670 burial plots for cremated remains, with scope to increase this number considerably.

It is estimated that there are 14 years’ worth of capacity for this type of burial currently.

What is the council’s plan to make sure it does not run out of burial plots in the future?

While banning side-by-side burials is expected to help extend the longevity of burial space, this still will mean burial space will run out in eight years.

The  council says there are limited opportunities to expand Henley Road Cemetery further for full body burials.

In 2015, three options were considered: BBC land to the rear of the cemetery, allotments land (originally purchased as burial ground) adjoining the cemetery and recreation ground (now Westfield).

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At this time only the recreation ground was considered a viable option for expansion, although the report noted that the allotment land should be retained for future consideration as burial ground.

Originally, the options for the BBC land were based on a land swap but this is no longer viable due to temporary housing now being on the piece of land the council had intended to swap.

However, there are currently no active applications or pre-applications within the BBC land site, so the council belives there may be opportunities to enter into negotiations.

Another option would be to explore out-of-area or cross-border land with a neighbouring authority.

A further report will be brought forward to Policy Committee in September 2021 with proposals on how to provide more burial land.