Rugby council re-opens cemetery gates after frustration and upset from residents and councillors

Residents have been contacting this newspaper to voice their frustration

Whinfield Cemetery. Photo: Google Streetview.
Whinfield Cemetery. Photo: Google Streetview.

Rugby Borough Council has taken the decision to re-open gates to its three cemeteries in the town to once-again allow vehicle access.

On November 18 council officers took the decision to stop vehicles being able to access the Croop Hill, Watts Lane and Whinfield cemeteries after a string of fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour and inconsiderate driving.

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But councillors and residents were not told about this - and after some weeks residents began contacting the Advertiser to speak of their upset.

Several reported that they have mobility issues, and without being able to drive up to a grave, they were left unable to visit loved ones.

One resident said: "I've got very limited mobility. I can drive and I can walk short distances.

"But there's no way I'd be able to manage walking from the gates to the grave - I'd never make it back."

Another resident said: "I don't want to slate the council because I know they have their reasons for doing this. But no-one was told about this and there have been a lot of people who aren't very mobile turning up and not being able to get in."

Rugby council said they re-opened the gates in December.

A spokesperson explained: "Sensitive to the fact many residents visit graves of loved ones during the festive period, the council reopened vehicle access gates on 7 December.

"The same day council staff digging a grave for a funeral witnessed a visitor driving over approximately 20 graves in order to park next to the grave he was visiting."

The spokesperson went on to explain some of the incidents which led to the initial decision to shut the gates.

They said: "Incidents witnessed by council staff include a driver hitting headstones and driving over graves while carrying out a three-point turn to leave a cemetery after visiting a grave, and a visitor refusing to move a vehicle in order to make way for a funeral cortege, despite being given 20 minutes’ notice, forcing the cortege to take a detour and use another entrance.

"Fly-tipping incidents have included mattresses, bed frames and building rubble."

And earlier this month, a decision was made to come to a compromise - with the gates being re-opened and only shut when there is a funeral.

Gates will be shut 30 minutes before a funeral and remain shut for the duration of the event.

A spokesperson for Rugby council said: “The council’s cemeteries were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and were never designed to cater for full vehicle access.

"Allowing vehicle access has always caused issues for the maintenance of our cemeteries, but the nature and scale of recent incidents of anti-social behaviour, carried out by an inconsiderate minority, led us to take the difficult decision to introduce the restrictions.

“We have ensured pedestrian and disabled access remains open at all times, regardless of the restrictions in place for private vehicles, and we have started to investigate long-term measures to combat the problems caused by vehicles while ensuring our cemeteries remain accessible to all residents.”

Cllr Maggie O'Rourke shared her own frustrations with the initial decision when the subject was brought up during a routine chat with this newspaper.

She said the decision to shut the gates was taken by council officers, and that no councillors had been told.

She said: "I want to thank the chief officer for intervening as soon as I made her aware of this, but I'm really frustrated that this decision was taken by officers without asking us or even assessing how it might affect people with mobility issues.

"This is an ongoing problem where decisions just aren't shared with us. As councillors we're the elected representatives and we are the ones who take the flak when the public are (rightfully) upset over decisions like this.

"There have been promises that the communication between officers and councillors will improve - but I'm afraid I'm just not seeing any progress with that.

"Ultimately, if we don't know what decisions are being made, and if we can't have a say in them, the public will just think that we're out of touch."