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Council / Gravestone safety inspections ‘near completion’

Lerwick Town Hall. Photo: Shetland NewsLerwick Town Hall. Photo: Shetland News

COUNCIL workers in Shetland are close to completing an inspection of isles graveyards following a tragic accident in Glasgow where a child was killed in 2015.

And Shetland Islands Council (SIC) is putting procedures in place to prevent a follow up of the situation where Orkney Islands Council flattened hundreds of gravestones for safety, before issuing a public apology in February.

The SIC will contact lair holders, where possible, as well as individual councillors and community councils, before taking action to prevent a repetition of the Orkney gaffe in what was said to be a “very sensitive issue in the local community”.

The council’s environment and transport committee heard on Tuesday that 57 of the isles’ 69 graveyards have been inspected and once inspections are finished, there will be a detailed appraisal of identified safety issues, which can include everything in the kirk yard, including perimeter walls.

Councillors approved a report by estates team leader Steven Goodlad which stated that “structures within burial grounds are also being assessed and where required significant works will be undertaken in order to make these safe.”

Costs including a gantry, staff training and temporary labour can all be met from the existing burial services budget, it added.

It also said that extra work to “repair structures including historic buildings within our burial grounds will incur further costs from structural engineers and specialist tradesmen. These costs are still unknown, should costs exceed existing budgets officers will seek approval of committee where required.”

Pegs are being placed alongside memorials assessed as being unsafe and notices on graveyard gates explain the positioning of pegs and give contact details.

Laying gravestones flat would be a “last resort” and would not be done unless lair holders, if identifiable, had been contacted.

While the council has a duty of safety to the public visiting graveyards, it is up to lair holders, if there are any, to engage tradesmen and make good any headstones that are deemed unsafe.

Goodlad also said a five-year rolling programme of works will start after the work identified by the inspection is completed. “We have to keep on top of it going forward,” he said.

Lerwick North councillor John Fraser questioned the need for a half-day seminar intended to instruct councillors in the particularities of graveyard maintenance.

But he was told by infrastructure services head John Smith that the presentation would only take place if there was sufficient demand from councillors.

Shetland West councillor Catherine Hughson questioned the general upkeep of burial grounds and said she had been upset to have had to clear grass cuttings off her husband’s grave.

Hughson said she did not doubt workmen were doing their best, but questioned whether this was another instance where budgets had been cut and this was starting to impact on communities.

The committee heard that the council had stopped gathering grass cuttings, instead letting them “mulch”, in 2012 as a money saving measure. Graveyards were also cut less frequently, meaning that trimmings were longer than ideal.