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Highgate Cemetery faces financial crisis

PUBLISHED: 13:42 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:40 07 September 2010

HIGHGATE Cemetery is facing a miserable double whammy in April with a 50 per cent business rate hike and the possible loss of a rates discount from Camden Council. Together with shops and offices across Hampstead and High-gate the historic

Susanna Wilkey

HIGHGATE Cemetery is facing a miserable double whammy in April with a 50 per cent business rate hike and the possible loss of a rates discount from Camden Council.

Together with shops and offices across Hampstead and High-gate the historic cemetery is facing doubled business rates in April following a government revaluation.

The cemetery, where notable people including Karl Marx and author George Eliot are buried, is one of the cemeteries and crematoriums across the country which are being targeted as part of the treasury's tax grab, expected to net £3.3million.

Spokesman for the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, John Shepperd, told the Ham&High: "The cemetery is facing a substantial rise in rates. There are two issues. One is that there has been a valuation increase by the government, something which is out of our control.

"The other is that Camden Council in the past has given us a discretionary reduction in rates which reflects the contribution the cemetery makes to the local society and the educational and tourism aspect of it.

"Everyone is under pressure and we all know government finances are under pressure so the issue of discretionary reduction is up for negotiation.

"But we would like to think and hope, as in the past, that we will get the same discretionary relief from Camden Council because the cemetery benefits the whole community."

The cemetery, which is managed and run by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery charitable trust, relies on donations as it does not receive any government support.

Trustees, along with shop-owners across the area who are already seriously struggling during the credit crunch, are considering appealing against the government's revaluation.

Mr Shepperd added: "We are facing a double whammy of the huge valuation increase and the possible loss of the discretionary reduction. That would be a huge hit and we are really trying to avoid that. In the worst case scenario we hope that the operation of the cemetery wouldn't be compromised but this is extremely unhelpful and we need all the help we can get.

"The cemetery depends on voluntary donations and this is money which is hard fought for, so to give it up to rates is not desirable. There are much more important things to spend it on at the cemetery.

"If we have to take the hit then we have to take the hit and it would mean a drastic change because there is a lot of ongoing pull on resources.

"We have several capital projects at the moment, including rebuilding the wall between the cemetery and Waterlow Park, which is going to cost a huge amount of money.

"There are better ways of spending our money in terms of preserving the fabric of the cemetery and preserving it in good order as a social and educational recourse.

"We hope Camden Council takes a generous view of how we can best manage the cemetery and develop its resources."

There are also fears that the hike in business rates will result in bereaved families, already shelling out thousands of pounds for a funeral, facing higher costs.

The price of a standard funeral is £2,733.

A spokesman for the council said it cannot comment on the cemetery's case because the deadline for applications for the discretionary rate relief has not expired and no decision has yet been made.


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