Council ‘washes its hands’ of historic chapels

Two listed chapels in Dewsbury Cemetery will be slowly destroyed by the elements after the council admitted it could not meet its responsibility to maintain them.

The historic buildings owned by Kirklees Council have stood derelict for at least a decade, and the roofs of both are beginning to cave in.

Two council owned listed chapels at the top of Dewsbury cemetary which have been left to fall into disrepair. (D531L347)

Two council owned listed chapels at the top of Dewsbury cemetary which have been left to fall into disrepair. (D531L347)

Three years ago, the Reporter teamed up with Dewsbury Cemetery Action Group to highlight the terrible state of the Grade II listed chapels through its Help Our Heritage campaign.

It won assurances from Dewsbury Regeneration Board that council officers would work with the group to find funding for repairs.

But no work has been carried out since then to protect the buildings from further damage and no real progress has been made with funding bids.

A council spokeswoman said the council faced the prospect of having to save £129m a year between 2010 and 2017, which would have an impact on all services.

She said this meant it could not fund the refurbishment of any of its cemetery chapels, including those at Dewsbury.

Action group chairwoman Joyce Wilcock said: “It’s really sad when you think of the history and the man who gave the land for the cemetery.

“They’re very quick to serve notices on private owners [demanding repairs], but who serves notices on them?”

Last year it was estimated that £200,000 would be needed just to make the chapels wind and waterproof.

And it would cost much more to realise plans once drawn up by Kirklees to restore Dewsbury’s Victorian cemetery to its former glory, turn the north chapel into a visitors’ centre and host small funerals in the south chapel.

Reporter deputy editor Kate Wobschall said: “While the council has been busy taking aim at private owners who let their buildings turn into eyesores, it has failed entirely to meets its own responsibility to preserve these historic landmarks.

“Long before the financial crisis, it was neglecting these buildings long and allowing the cost of any eventual repairs to spiral.

“Perhaps these buildings would be back in use by now if it had not given up so easily all those years ago.”

It was the earlier plan to restore the chapels which prompted the council to call for volunteers to form an action group and support its funding bids.

But now the small group is being expected to do all the leg work.

Mrs Wilcock said: “After all this time it doesn’t say much for Kirklees and their management. By asking someone else to put together a bid, they are virtually saying they wash their hands of it.

“We can’t take it one. We’ve got no resources.”

The council spokeswoman said it was happy to advise volunteer groups about how to apply for funding from the likes of English Heritage.

“However, the funding rules mean that the council cannot put a bid together to be submitted by a third party,” she said.

“Any community organisation wishing to access advice and support in applying for funding for the chapels is welcome to make contact.”