Kingston Council has spent £15,000 bringing forward plans to extend Surbiton Cemetery by 1,000 plots, as part of Government-inspired preparations for a worst case scenario swine flu death toll.

A 0.4ha patch of land at the back of the cemetery, currently overgrown and blighted by illegal fly tipping, has been levelled and prepared for future burials.

Ted Forsyth, head of environmental services and trading standards, said: “This site has been earmarked as the proposed extension to Surbiton Cemetery for a long time. In view of recent events with swine flu and in line with national civil contingency protocols, the council felt it prudent to bring some of the preparatory work forward.”

According to Home Office document entitled Planning for a possible influenza pandemic: a framework for planners preparing to manage deaths, first drafted in August 2007, councils may need to prepare burial sites for multiple graves, and “areas within the cemetery would need to be allocated for this purpose”.

Other measures suggested to cope with any higher death rate include shorter funeral services and a limited choice of coffins.

The council met local religious leaders to discuss the preparations in August, and members of the borough’s Inter-Faith Forum formed a sub-committee including representatives of the Church of England and the Muslim and orthodox Jewish communities to examine detailed plans.

Members of the sub-committee declined to comment, not wanting to spread any alarm.

But Councillor Rolson Davies, executive member for health and adult community services, said: “We will be sensitive to the beliefs of different people and ensure that certain parts of the land are designated for different faiths.

“We have been advised to prepare for the worst case scenario, which hopefully will never happen.”

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