Families ordered to remove 'unauthorised' tributes from loved ones' graves in Sunderland cemeteries

Families have been ordered to remove ‘unauthorised’ tributes from graves in Sunderland cemeteries as bosses announce improvement and maintenance work to make the city’s burial grounds ‘safer and greener’.

Sunderland City Council is carrying out a safety survey of all memorials and grave stones in Wearside cemeteries, and requiring ‘grave holders remove any unauthorised items such as enclosures, fences, gravel and planting’.

Bosses said unauthorised items are preventing effective grounds and lawn maintenance, and hindering efforts to provide a ‘safe and accessible environment to all visitors’.

They said cemetery regulations ‘continue to allow personal items on lawn sections but they must adhere to permitted sizes, and materials, and not hinder other cemetery visitors and maintenance teams’.Signs reminding grave holders to check their plots are being put up in cemeteries.

Picture issued by Sunderland City Council with a reminder on 'unauthorised' grave tributes.

Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy council leader and cabinet member for Clean Green City, said: "We are investing in our cemeteries and crematorium and improving them for those who visit and for those who work in them.

"We need the co-operation of grave holders to help us on further improvements with the look and appearance of our cemeteries, especially the lawns and paved areas.

"We, as a council have a duty to ensure proper maintenance and upkeep. We all expect our cemeteries to be respectful places therefore we are now asking grave holders to look and think about their plots.”

She added: "Over the years we have seen some encroachment from grave plots onto lawns and pathways.

Picture issued by Sunderland City Council with a reminder on 'unauthorised' grave tributes.

"To keep the cemetery safe for staff and visitors alike we do reserve the right under cemetery regulations to remove any unsuitable material on or around a grave.

"We'd like grave holders to double-check and make sure that any unauthorised items are removed by the end of October."

The council said grave and memorial safety survey is being prepared and a public notice is due to be published in the week beginning Monday, August 15.

Bosses said the reminder about unauthorised items and memorial safety survey are part of a wider Bereavement Services Improvement Programme at Sunderland’s ten cemeteries.

This has included refurbishments at Sunderland Crematorium and also allocating more than £7million for a possible new crematorium.

Every year Bereavement Services helps oversee around 400 burials and 2,800 cremations in the city.

In June, the council updated its cemetery regulations. Alongside the memorial survey plans, a report outlined how unauthorised fencing, paving and other markers were obstructing lawned areas for visitors and, as the council ceases the use of chemical weed killers, hindering safe access for staff.

The report stated: "The presence of unsuitable items on cemetery lawn sections causes difficulty in maintenance, affecting the appearance of the cemetery, and increasing the possibility of accidental damage to personal items by maintenance teams due to the unsuitable nature of the surround.

"In many cases, the items left on graves or the size, construction or material used to create the grave enclosure, poses a risk of harm or injury to cemetery visitors, operatives undertaking maintenance work, and funeral parties attending for burials for which the Council assume liability in accordance with the Local Authority Cemeteries Order 1977.

"Additionally, the recent reduction in chemical weed control has resulted in increased use of mechanical maintenance equipment in close proximity to individual graves and therefore the need for suitable grave enclosures is further increased for staff safety and to further minimise the risk of damage to personal items.”