‘It’s a balancing act’: Highgate Cemetery boss defends consultation over future

A view of Highgate Cemetery East in Highgate, north London.

A view of Highgate Cemetery East in Highgate, north London. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Highgate Cemetery bosses have launched a public consultation on it’s future development plan as it looks to balance sustainability with its continuing tourist appeal.

The cemetery is asking members of the pubic about a 188 plan which looks to decide how the cemetery should best look after its trees, continue as an active burial ground and make visiting “easier and more rewarding”.

Critics of the consultation have called it a “PR circus” but Dr Ian Dungavell defended the plans, which include the idea of opening the west cemetery to tourists. Currently, it is only accessible through guided tours.

Dr Dungavell said: “It’s a balancing act, and of course people are going to have strong opinions. It’s a matter of finding a way of conserving the cemetery and keeping it looked after.

“in the past, it’s been preferred to allow a sort of managed neglect, but the cemetery is now suffering – you can see trees damaging burials for example.

“Highgate is probably Britain’s most historic cemetery, and we need to take action to deal with the creeping problems. It’s not a normal cemetery, and we need to tackle to issues: We’re running out of space for new graves, and trees are causing structural damage. This is about how we do these things.” Caroline Coombes, a long-time Friend of Highgate Cemetery, told this newspaper: “It’s a PR exercise. The problem is there’s an enormous amount of apathy among the Highgate community and amongst the membership of the Friends.

“Out of all the people who responded to last year’s questionnaire, hardly any were from the friends group or even from Highgate.”

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“It seems the present management of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery will do exactly as it pleases.

Dr Dungavell said it was wrong to cite apathy amongst the community. “I don’t recognise that,” he told this newspaper,

“We had 76 responses locally last year, and 106 within London more generally.”

The consultation will last until September 30, and then the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust will look to create an “implementation plan” which could span the next decade.

Highgate Cemetery is managed by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, which took over the running of the historic burial ground in 1975 and obtained the freehold in 1981.