Councillors delay ‘pressing’ decision on memorial benches in Maldon parks to allow consultation

  Posted: 07.01.22 at 14:13 by Charlotte Lillywhite

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Councillors have deferred their decision on replacing the sale of memorial benches in Maldon parks with a leasing scheme until more consultation can be carried out with interested groups.

Members of Maldon District Council’s strategy and resources committee came to the decision last night (Thursday, 6 January), after being told the Friends’ groups set up to maintain the district’s cemeteries had not been fully consulted on the plans.

Proposing that the decision be deferred, Councillor Robert Boyce said there needs to be “consultation with those people that are closely involved with the cemeteries”.

There are three Friends’ groups in the Maldon district for each of the area’s cemeteries - in Maldon, Heybridge and Burnham.

Under the plans, residents would be able to lease a plaque on a memorial bench in parks and open spaces owned by the council for five-year periods.

Each bench would have space for three plaques.

This would put an end to the sale of memorial benches in the spaces, which officers have recommended be stopped due to difficulties including waiting times and cost issues.

Debbie Horney, cemeteries and bereavement services senior coordinator, said: “By leasing a plaque on a bench more people can enjoy the scheme, whereas, at the moment, it’s a select few people in certain areas.

“This is why we’re looking to change the approach to make it a more consistent approach available to more people.”

Richard Holmes, director of service delivery and head of paid service, added: “This has taken a lot of thought and care because of our customers, and we obviously know this is very emotive for those people involved.”

He said there is a “pressing need” to change the policy.

It currently costs £1,200 to buy a bench, while the lease of a plaque would be set at £400.

The council receives on average one new request for a bench every week, which officers said they “have no means to accommodate”.

The officers’ report recommends that an improved and centrally-recorded inspection programme for all benches on land owned by the council be created by March, alongside a supporting database.

Any benches which have fallen into disrepair would be removed.

Officers recommend that, from 1 April, residents be offered the opportunity to lease a plaque on a bench bought and owned by the council.

The lease period would be five years and could be renewed for additional five-year periods at a cost of £125.

While councillors did not object to the proposal, they said it should be done with more consultation and encompassing other ideas related to the district’s cemeteries.

Councillor Mark Durham said: “Memorial benches are a great idea when somebody or a family is newly bereaved - they go to the cemetery and they look at the benches and they think that would be a nice thing to have - but if we did it for absolutely everybody we’d have thousands of benches.”

He continued: “You have to draw a line at some stage.”

Councillor Wendy Stamp added that “there’s lots more ideas that need to be encompassed and brought into a policy”.

She said: “I think it needs to be done as the whole. I don’t think it should be piecemeal - I don’t think we should be breaking one off and doing the benches now.”

Members approved Councillor Boyce’s proposal for officers to hold a discussion with the Friends’ groups on the plans.

Mr Holmes said the revised proposal would be turned around quickly so councillors can make a decision on the proposal as soon as possible.

You can read more about the plans here.

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