The controversial scheme to create extra burial places on top of existing graves at Shepton Mallet Cemetery has been given the seal of approval by Mendip Council’s cabinet despite concerns from councillors and residents.
The £15,000 project would involve disturbing and moving memorials dating back more than 140 years and putting one metre of earth on top of existing graves so more burials could take place in the raised layer.
Mendip District Council is faced with burial space at the cemetery off Waterloo Road running out in three years.
The council considered various alternatives but found that no other sites in the town are suitable for burials.
Residents say they are worried about the effect that heavy lorries bringing in tonnes of earth could have on roads, walls, the cemetery entrance and the structure of the nearby Cowl Street bridge during the double decking process.
The dignity of the dead was also under threat, according to one councillor.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s cabinet, town and district councillor Jeannette Marsh said she was worried about the remains of paupers.
Many of them were not buried in graves but were just buried in the ground, and their remains could be disturbed during the earthworks, she warned.
But Councillor John Parham said that while the council had explored various options there were no suitable alternatives.
The level raising will take place in the oldest part of the cemetery, where there have been no new burials since 1870, he said. And the work would give the cemetery an extra 15 years of additional burial space for residents.
He assured residents and concerned members of the Friends of the Cemetery group that any existing memorials would be carefully moved and stored safely while the soil filling operations took place and would then be put back.
Mr Parham said the situation facing Mendip was not unique – councils in other parts of the country were facing similar problems and running out of grave space.
And Peter Brook, the council’s engineer, assured worried residents who attended this month’s cabinet meeting that the impact of the lorries in and out of the site on the bridge and walls would be relatively small, and the whole operation would be carefully monitored.
The scheme to raise the earth levels is scheduled to take place next summer and should take about eight weeks to complete.
The cabinet recommended approval of the scheme and the final decision now rests with the full council.