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Church raises concerns at possible HS2 grave desecration
THE Church of England has called for the route of HS2 to be changed after it emerged the line could desecrate thousands of graves - including many in south Bucks.
The Archbishops' Council sent in one of the 1,925 petitions to be submitted to Parliament, which allows groups or individuals to have their say on the controversial plans and have it scrutinised by MPs.
They say three burial grounds - including the 12th century St Mary church in Stoke Mandeville - will need to be cleared to make way for the high speed rail line between London and Birmingham.
The Church of England says it is not opposed to the idea of constructing a new railway line but claims the current plans put forward in the HS2 Hybrid Bill are "technically deficient".
In its petition the Archbishops' Council said: "The works authorised by the Bill will involve the destruction of three burial grounds consecrated for the burial of the dead in accordance with the rites of the Church of England and the removal of human remains and monuments from them.
"The provisions of clause 26 and Schedule 19 [of the Hybrid Bill] do not make adequate provision to ensure that during and after the removal of human remains they are treated in a decent and reverent manner or that they are subsequently reinterred in consecrated land. Nor do they make adequate provision to ensure that any monuments that are removed are disposed of in a suitable manner.
"This is inconsistent with the approach taken in other legislation which provides for the compulsory acquisition of land and its use for statutory purposes.
"Human remains that have been interred in consecrated land (and their associated monuments) are, as a matter of law, under the protection of the Church...it is accordingly submitted that the absence of any such provision from the BUI is contrary to general legal principle."
A Church of England spokesman said in a statement: "In terms of opposition the CofE is not opposing HS2 per se, rather we are petitioning for a technical change to the Bill, ie we are opposing the Bill in its present, in our view technically deficient, form.
"It is simply a matter of re-instating a clause which can be found in other legislation relating to development and has been left out of this Bill."
The Church added however it does not have reliable figures for how many graves will be exhumed, but estimates it will be in the thousands.
As well as the church at Stoke Mandeville, burial grounds at Euston St James Gardens and Park Street, Birmingham, will be cleared, while the line is also set to tunnel underneath Kensal Green cemetery.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Throughout the development of HS2, burial grounds have been avoided as far as practicable. We understand that the removal of human remains to enable HS2 to progress is a sensitive and emotive issue, which is why this issue is specifically dealt with in the Hybrid Bill and why HS2 Ltd recently published a paper setting out how it would deal with affected burial sites along the route.
"Though the affected burial sites at Euston, Stoke Mandeville and Birmingham have not been in use for more than 100 years, HS2 Ltd will ensure that the affected remains are treated with dignity, respect and care."
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