21 June 2002

Large profits from cemetery diversification

By Andrew Shirley

AN UNUSUAL land use diversification scheme could net farmers huge profits, according to one entrepreneur.

Donald Boddy, of consultancy firm Ecopartnerships, reckons setting aside a plot of land as a cemetery or remembrance park could generate up to £1m/acre over the lifetime of the enterprise. "Since the burial of Princess Diana on an island at her family estate, an increasing number of people are considering the choices available for burial and cremation."

He says that in the right location it is possible to charge over £1500 for each burial plot, although, at £750/sq m, urn pots for cremated ashes are more lucrative, he adds. "The higher the density, the lower the cost." Scenic locations with good views are most in demand he says, noting that many people are now prepared to be buried far away from home.

Planning permission will be required for setting up such an operation, although Mr Boddy says it is usually granted. "Obviously a site shouldnt be close to a bore hole or water course but they are considered an acceptable use of green belt land. There would have to be very strong reasons not to get permission."

A spokesman for the Natural Death Centre, a charity which aims to improve the quality of dying, said the number of woodland burial sites had jumped from only one in 1991 to over 140 now. "As the green generation gets older it doesnt want to pollute the environment even after death."

But he said that setting up such a scheme should not be taken lightly. "It is a long-term thing and it is important to make plans for how the site will be managed in the future." The centre publishes a book, available on www.naturaldeath.org.uk, which features a guide to the law on farmland burial sites and details of how to organise funerals.

Farmers within a 45-minute radius of the UKs conurbations, especially London, the Midlands, the north-west and Yorkshire could benefit from another intriguing opportunity. Humberts Leisure (not connected to Humberts the land agency firm) is scouting for about six sites on behalf of a major leisure group.

Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby would not reveal exactly what the sites would be used for, but said ideally they should be 30-50 acres, about a quarter wooded, with the balance water and grass, and in an area with a benign planning regime. "They will be extremely well-maintained and wont intrude on the surrounding countryside." &#42