Bromley has enough burial space available to cope if demand rises as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a senior councillor has assured.

National media reported earlier this month on Islamic mass graves, called saff graves, being dug at Chislehurst to keep up with a sharp rise in demand.

While the cemetery is privately owned and operated, Bromley Councillor William Huntington-Thresher assured there was “space locally” within the authority at other cemeteries if need for burial space heightened due to additional deaths from the pandemic.

Cllr Huntington-Thresher, the authority’s executive member for environment and community services, said the authority had capacity for both physical burials and cremation, adding the “vast majority” of people chose the latter option in recent times.

“There is no suggestion currently that there is a capacity issue. Likewise, whilst physical burial spaces are more limited, there is space locally,” he said.

Earlier this month national outlets such as Channel 4 and the Daily Mail reported on the digging of saffs at the Eternal Gardens Muslim burial grounds, within the Kemnal Cemetery at Chislehurst.

The plots, which can hold up to ten bodies, were being dug to cope with the large number of deaths in the Islamic community.

Islamic burials traditionally take place within 24 hours of death.

Richard Gomersall, the Eternal Garden’s special projects manager, told the Mail the cemetery “simply cannot keep up with demand”.

He added the digging of saffs came after consulting Islamic scholars to find a solution to accommodating the high number of deaths.  

As of April 24, 953 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Bromley according to Public Health England, a rate of 2,878 per million people.

Neighbouring boroughs Greenwich had 587 confirmed cases (2,051 per million), while Bexley had 560 (2,264 per million), Lewisham 854 (2,813 per million) and Croyden 1,253 (3,251 per million.

Current government guidelines stipulate funerals can be attended by up to 10 mourners, observing appropriate social distancing measures.

Cllr Huntington-Thresher added local funeral directors were on hand to work out burial options with families.

“Funeral directors work with the next of kin who have sadly lost a family member and are best placed to discuss whether a burial or cremation is most appropriate,” he said.

“The choice is often based on faith or personal preference.

“Funeral directors can advise the family on suitable local facilities for both and are generally not focused on borough boundaries.

“The vast majority of people choose for their loved one to be cremated these days.

“Families often choose a preferred location for their loved one service of remembrance, with the funeral directors arranging cremation at a one of a number of local crematoria to follow.”