Totnes town cemetery has deteriorated into a danger zone of matted grass and disintegrating paths because it has been neglected for so many years, town councillors Pip Paine has warned.
The town council owners of the Plymouth Road graveyard have just agreed to spend £20,000 on maintenance work over the coming financial years – which includes grass cutting.
But Mr Paine warned the cemetery has been so badly looked after over the last 30 years that the earmarked cash is simply not enough. He claimed at least another £10,000 needs to be spent as he warned that the grass is so matted and spongy in some areas that it has become dangerous for people visiting graves.
And he declared that the paths in the cemetery are in such a bad state that they too have become dangerous – and should be dug up completely and the ground given over to extra grave spaces.
Mr Paine, who was contracted to carry out the maintenance work on the cemetery for 27 years from 1980 before becoming a town councillor in 2015, warned work needs to be carried out to boundary hedges, fences, trees and shrubs, a collapsed bank and gates along with drainage problems.
He said: ‘The cemetery has been underfunded for about 30 years but for the last five years it has been to the point that the grass is in a hell of a state.
‘Shrubs have not been touched for more than two or three years. They need sorting out as well as trees and there is also the fencing and drainage to sort out.’
He said he was the only town councillor who had family members buried in the cemetery and added: ‘There is no way that they are going to put their heart and soul into thinking about the cemetery.’
Mr Paine wants to see a whole new regime of grass cutting and maintenance in the cemetery with the employment of local contractors who do not get paid unless they do the job properly.
His report to the council declared that at the west end of the cemetery the grass had only been cut eight times a year and ‘can be seen to be matted and spongy and very dangerous to visitors’.
He added: ‘Many people visit this part of the cemetery. The ground is on a bit of a slope and very uneven.
‘People should be able to visit without fear of tripping over or falling on to the many stones that are on those plots.’
He told town councillors at last week’s budget meeting: ‘The paths are dangerous. If we dig up the paths we can turn them into burial areas.’
During the discussion it was suggested that the council should look at alternative uses of the cemetery for possible natural burials, the scattering of ashes and developing a wild and wild flower area.
Former mayor Jacqi Hodgson also suggested that part could be formed into a garden of remembrance.
Meanwhile the town council is no nearer deciding what to do with the cemetery chapel which stands in the centre of the graveyard area.
The council owns the chapel along with the cemetery and has been talking for years about trying to find a use for it.
Now the council has agreed to put £5,000 in its budget for the coming financial year just to spend on ‘project planning’ to look at the viability of getting planning permission for a change of use to something like offices and to see how it could be linked up to the sewage system to provide toilet facilities there.