AN environmental group has labelled the decision to privatise the running of Haringey's cemeteries as “disgraceful”.
The plan to hand the day-to-day running of the cemeteries in Wood Green and Tottenham, and Enfield Crematorium to a private firm was agreed by councillors in November last year to save money, with Dignity plc winning the contract earlier this month.
Haringey Council said it decided on the move to avoid having to find at least £6.6m in the next five years to invest in the service to meet emissions targets and to find new burial plots.
But liaison group Sustainable Haringey – a loose network of activists – said that the sites are vital community spaces and that Dignity plc scored less than 20 per cent on biodiversity and conservation in the council's bid process.
Spokesman Dave Morris said: “It's disgraceful that any of our public services are being threatened with privatisation, especially something as vital and sensitive as bereavement services – and with no public consultation.
“We want cast iron guarantees about public access to the sites and to burial records, and the protection of green space and nature conservation.”
The group also question the council's figures and is calling for the a halt to the transfer of management – due to start early next year – until a full public consultation on the plans has taken place.
The deal means that the borough will become the first in London to transfer cemetery management to a private contractor – at a peppercorn rent – and gives the company a 50-year deal to run the sites.
The bid was evaluated with an emphasis on the price of bids over quality, according to the council's report.
Dignity plc – the largest operator in the country, running 34 crematoria and four cemeteries – says it will invest £2m in refurbishing the chapels and public areas at the three sites and 14 council staff will transfer to the provider next year.
Campaigners are particularly concerned about the conservation of Tottenham Cemetery in White Hart Lane, which opened in 1858 and covers 62 acres.
The original graveyards of All Hallows Church is the oldest part of the cemetery and contains graves and tombs that are more than 400 years old – some of the oldest in London.
Councillor Nilgun Canver, cabinet member for environment, said on Monday: “Our facilities will get the capital investment needed to bring them up-to-date, but without drawing resources away from other front-line council services.
“On top of this, the borough is guaranteed an annual income, linked to inflation, for up to 50 years. This is a win-win deal for Haringey.
“Residents will experience no change to the service and we have worked to ensure guarantees are in place to care for historic sites and protect biodiversity.”