Anger over cost of gravestone repairs

COMMUNITY leaders reacted with anger last night after it emerged that council taxpayers could face a £20 hike to pay for repairs to damaged or unsafe gravestones.

COMMUNITY leaders reacted with anger last night after it emerged that council taxpayers could face a £20 hike to pay for repairs to damaged or unsafe gravestones.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council has spent £20,000 testing gravestones according to new Government health and safety policy and now must decide to how to pay for the necessary repairs.

With around 3,500 headstones expected to fail the tests and with each costing £200 to repair, the council could face a £700,000 bill to rectify all the problems.

According to council papers, every £50,000 allocated to repairs would have an “impact” on the average Band D council tax property of £1.38.

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As a result, funding the full list of repairs across the borough could lead to a tax hike of around £19.32 for a Band D house.

The move is one of six options set to be considered by the council's policy development committee next week.

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Last night, Richard Spring, Conservative MP for Suffolk West, said any council tax increase would add “insensitivity to insensitivity” and would be a “total waste of money”.

He said: “Its disgraceful - this should never have happened.

“Although it is right we have safe cemeteries we have never had an incident in Suffolk and only a limited number nationally which happened in graveyards which have not been kept up.”

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, blamed the problem on the health and safety legislation, which he said had “gone mad”.

He added: “It is a staggering amount to add to council tax but it is not clear in my mind if the council is liable for the full amount.”

Betty Bone, an anti-council tax campaigner, said: “They can't seriously expect pensioners on a fixed income to pay extra on a tax which already costs enough. Can't they get this money from another part of their revenue?”

David Nettleton, borough councillor, said it was important to establish how much of the damage the council was responsible for through the safety tests.

“We need to listen to what the council has to say but I don't think we would have these problems if they had taken the advice of the local government ombudsman,” he said.

“Now they are talking about having meetings. It is all back to front - they should have talked to people before hand rather than sticking signs on the graves.”

It is estimated it will cost £350,000 to repair only the monuments where families cannot be contacted - a course of action also being considered by the council.

The authority will also consider paying in cases where families refuse to pay or are unable to pay and are receiving means tested benefits.

Another option is to only pay for damage to listed memorials.

A council spokesman said: “This is just one of six financial options which will be considered by the policy development committee at its meeting on April 19.

“Recommendations will then be made to the cabinet and full council before decisions on future policy are taken.”

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