A small group gathered at the Bight Cemetery outside Wingham to mark a tragic anniversary on the 22nd July – it’s been twelve months since MidCoast Council desecrated the graves of their loved ones. Due to Covid restrictions many other relatives could not attend.
According to spokesman for The Blight of the Bight Group, Tim Crossley, the gathering was to publicise the slow progress by MCC since the horrific vandalisation of the graves occurred.
Commented Mr Crossley, “The Restoration Action Plan has not been met. Engagement of the consultants to write the Conservation Management Plan took 3 months. The engagement of the stone masons to discuss the repairs with families has not occurred. We are now going into the Donkey Orchid exclusion period at The Bight (Sept – Nov) so it is likely MCC will wait till the end of October when they have the Conservation Management Plan and the exclusion period is over before preparing the restoration plan. This means it is looking like March 2021 before anything happens.”
The council appointed the company Umwelt to prepare the Conservation Management Plan for The Bight Cemetery which has been surveying the cemetery site and damaged graves.
So what’s taken so long to restore the headstones?
Mr Paul DeSzell, Director Liveable Communities, MidCoast Council, says:
“In planning the process to repair the damaged headstones, the elected Council have determined a program of actions that need to be undertaken to ensure the headstones are repaired in accordance with appropriate guidelines.”
This statement in ‘council speak’ smacks of a classic ‘Yes Minister’ response: there is no fault by the Administration; the elected Council has ‘determined the program of actions’, so surely the conclusion has to be that any responsibility has to sit with the elected Council as it failed to impose a focused schedule of actions with a concise timetable aimed at restoring the headstones.
Clearly, many of the delays have resulted from Council’s original contraventions and failures in Cemetery policy.
As for a timetable for the repairs, there won’t be one for sometime.
Relatives say they still don’t know what the timetable is and when work is likely to commence. Council states however;
“We have advised families of the expected timeline for the draft Conservation Management Plan and how they will be involved in providing feedback on the draft plan.”
Families are distressed that engagement of the consultants to prepare the Conservation Management Plan took three months!
The other key element – The engagement of the stone masons and heritage stone masons to do an assessment and write a scope of works for the repair of each individual headstone, and discuss repairs with families, has not occurred. This could have happened at the same time as the preparation of the Conservation Management Plan. The Council resolution of the 23rd March did not say stop all other work on the Bight Cemetery and wait for the Conservation Management Plan.
It appears to an outside observer there is no project management, and that council is incapable of doing two things at once.
The prospect for the affected families is it will be well into 2021 before anything happens.
And no one to date has been held responsible for giving the order, implementing it, and presumably overseeing this horrendous destruction.
And we thought the destruction of the magnificent cypress trees around the cemetery was a disaster. By the way, Mr DeSzell tells us those won’t be replaced till after the headstones at The Bight are repaired. More delays!
And still no one has been held responsible for carrying out this insane act of vandalism.
What next horror does MidCoast Council have in store for us?
I’m surprised the council hasn’t called for an Environmental Impact Study just to waste more money and time. I was interviewed (comment on) by Prime 7 news when they asked passers-by what we thought about council’s decision to lay down “old” headstones as they are a “safety risk”. I said, “You’ve got more chance of being hit by a tree branch so are they going to cut down all the trees as well?” (It was edited out). I have nothing but cynicism and contempt when it comes to the council, just don’t get me started…