A COUNCIL has given the go-ahead to pass on costs for respacing burial chambers to members of Wycombe’s Muslim community - a move which the Labour party claims is making mourners pay for the authority’s mistake.
Labour last month ‘called in’ a decision made by Wycombe District Council to pass on the cost of the alteration to the town’s cemetery after members of the Muslim community deemed the newly installed chambers to be too close together - meaning they would have to walk over the burial vaults to reach the one they wished to visit.
But WDC last week decided to proceed with imposing the charges, and maintain the type of chambers installed are in use by members of the Muslim community in other areas.
It said even with the respacing costs passed on, the burial fee is cheaper than before the new system was installed.
In 2011 WDC agreed to install the concrete chambers at the request of members of the area’s Muslim population, as a more appropriate Islamic burial method.
The plan was originally set to cut burial costs for the Muslim community from around £1,500 to around £1,000.
WDC will now pass on the cost of respacing the chambers to those using them at a charge of around £300, which the council says is still a saving of around £136 on the previous overall charge.
Wycombe's Labour group says the council was wrongly advised over the kind of burial chambers it installed and now refuses to acknowledge its mistake.
Councillor Khalil Ahmed, Labour, said "This issue is important to the Muslim community in Wycombe; there is a real sense that WDC needed to play fair. So I am very disappointed that WDC has decided to charge the Muslim community for the Council’s mistake."
The party says it checked with two districts where this style of burial chamber was supposedly in use by the Muslim community, but said it found that in one case the chambers were used by families from the Caribbean and Italy, and in the other the spacing was wider.
Labour Cllr Mohammed Hanif said while his party had double checked this, the Tory-led WDC had not. He added it was "a great shame that they (Tory councillors) haven’t the integrity to change their minds when they know they are wrong".
But WDC told the BFP that, while it did not originally state the vault arrangements had to be exclusively for Muslim use when it asked for examples from its contractor, it does have photographic evidence of other cemeteries where the Wycombe vault arrangement is installed.
It added that one of the authorities contacted by Labour had not been cited as an example by the contractor. The wider spaced chambers, the council added, would have also been more expensive to install and would therefore have been more expensive for users.
A statement from council spokesman Catherine Spalton said: "It is regrettable that in our initial efforts to provide an improved burial service for Muslim residents, by installing new concrete chambers, we did not meet the specific requirements that some of our local Muslim religious leaders have. We are very sorry for any distress that we may have caused as a result."
She said that a new order for the chambers has now been placed, adding: "Our cemetery operates on a full cost-recovery basis on burials, which are charged at cost. With the installation of concrete chambers, a Muslim resident will pay £136 less for a burial vault than they currently do for a metal framed burial."