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Church slated for mismanaging graveyard alterations

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Under fire: St Anne's Church has been severely criticised for its handling of changes to its graveyard with a planning advisory committee saying: “The project has been severely mismanaged with the price paid by the integrity of the deceased”. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Retroactive plans for works at a Southampton graveyard which raised concerns about the handling of remains have been rejected by the Development Applications Board.

St Anne’s Church had sought retroactive planning approval for the addition of two gravesites and refurbishment of two existing gravesites in the church’s graveyard, along with the creation of a retaining wall and a new paved walkway.

But the application sparked an objection from the Bermuda National Trust, which voiced concerns about the disturbance of graves.

A report by a planning officer recommended that the proposal be rejected, saying that human remains were disturbed and there was no reasonable explanation why the church had not applied for permission for the works.

The report said that while the applicant had claimed no “relevant remains” were disturbed, photographs by an inspector showed that remains were “assuredly disinterred and remain exposed by the excavation”.

Criticised: St Anne's Anglican Church in Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The report said the applicant had been co-operative, but should have been well aware that planning permission and a building permit were needed as they had gone through the process with other projects.

“The applicant did submit a letter to accompany the application explaining that their understanding was they did not require permission if the walls within the application were under 4ft in height,” the report said.

“However, it is evident on site and within their application that the proposed works include 10ft-high walls for the graves, an 8ft-high retaining wall as well as an 8ft-high column to match the existing.

“In any event, planning permission would have been required even if the walls were limited to no more than 4ft given that they affect the site of a listed building.”

The report writer said that had the church submitted an application, the Department of Planning would likely have recommended a preliminary archaeological assessment to determine the historic significance of the ‘graves of interest’ and potential impact on other remains in the cemetery.

“Such an assessment would have informed appropriate measures to mitigate potential impacts on any artefacts or human remains within the site,” the report said.

“However, the retroactive nature of this application contravenes the protections set out in the Bermuda Plan 2018 in that, without due process of a DAP1 application, a Grade 1 listed historic asset was compromised without the consultation of relevant experts and without the discretion of the Development Applications Board.”

The Historic Buildings Advisory Board also expressed “deep concern” for the retroactive application due to the disruption of remains and recommended the application be refused.

The body added “the project has been severely mismanaged with the price paid by the integrity of the deceased”.

According to the minutes of the DAB’s meeting on Wednesday, the board refused the application citing they were not satisfied the church did not know they needed planning permission for the project.

The written reasons for the decision also noted that the lack of a preliminary archaeological assessment meant that mitigation measures were not put in place, which resulted in “disturbance to remains present within the site”.

The minutes stated: “Members of the Board supported the recommendation of the Historic Building Advisory Committee, which was to add a condition requiring a preliminary archaeological assessment of the area, should the Minister overturn the refusal.”