DETAILED plans for a controversial crematorium on green belt land in New Milton have won backing from the town council’s planning committee despite continued objections from local residents.
Granted outline planning permission by New Forest District Council in 2016, the single-chapel development is set to be sited on land east of Stem Lane and north of Great Woar Copse.
As reported in the A&T, the proposal has proved highly contentious among people living nearby, with hundreds having signed a petition against it and a campaign group set up to fight it.
Objections included pollution fears, that the development was an inappropriate use of green belt land, and there would be an unacceptable rise in vehicle movements.
However, it has been welcomed by others who say it will relieve some of the pressure on the crematoriums in Bournemouth and Southampton. They have also spoken of the emotional benefits for local grieving families and friends by saving them from travelling further for a cremation.
At the time of its outline approval the scheme was led by newly-formed organisation the New Forest Crematorium Company. Its company director was Jeremy Hinton, group development director of the site’s landowner Meyrick Estate Management Ltd.
However, the fledgling company later decided against running the venture and handed it over to Bristol-based crematoria and cemetery developer Westerleigh Group.
The group, which describes itself as the UK’s second largest crematorium operator, submitted the reserved matters application in October, with some modifications made to the building designs.
These include the removal of the conical roof after technical reviews of the cremator equipment concluded the flue did not need to be as high as previously thought. A new roof lantern form has been designed instead, cutting down the scale of the original, 15-metre high outline design.
Over 30 members of the public gathered at New Milton Memorial Centre last Thursday to hear the town council planning committee pass its comments on the reserved matters bid.
Several spoke in public session – some in support, some completely against and others who agreed a crematorium was needed but not in the chosen location.
The committee heard from Linda Lee, a chaplain at Lymington New Forest Hospital who said she had led many funeral services at several crematoriums, including the main ones in Bournemouth and Southampton.
Commenting her services often involved grieving spouses with mobility issues, Mrs Lee felt that on their behalf a crematorium in New Milton would be beneficial. She also believed that the facility would be environmentally friendly, judging by one operated by Westerleigh in the Test Valley.
Although agreeing there was a need for a crematorium, a resident of Velvet Lawn Road, which neighbours the site, expressed concerns about its impact on local traffic.
“It would make great sense to have the crematorium on the other side of New Milton, near Tesco and towards Lymington,” he said. “This would provide greater accessibility for the catchment area.
“This is not just a NIMBY thing. I just think this is not very sensible, traffic-wise.”
The traffic issue was also raised by Marion Adams, who feared that a crematorium in the area could lead to more accidents.
“How many vehicles in a funeral cortege? Twenty? They’ll come across the Cat & Fiddle junction, through Walkford, and that is an accident blackspot,” she said.
“What’s wrong with placing the crematorium off the A35? There’s much greater access.
“I do think a better location would serve the area better and prevent New Milton being clogged up with traffic.”
Local resident Martin Hughes expressed bewilderment that the crematorium was being considered for green belt land as he believed this contradicted with national policy.
In response, planning committee chairman Cllr Steve Clarke said: “I need to remind everyone that we’re here not to decide whether the application should go ahead. The outline application was decided three years ago.
“What we’re considering now is the reserved matters application – the layout of the building, the roads, etc.”
But Mr Hughes hit back: “I’m not sure the national policy framework would agree with that.”
Although not a resident of any of the roads surrounding the crematorium site, one member of the public expressed his concern and sympathy for those who did.
Having researched various acts of parliament dating back to 1902, he said he had found a regulation stating that no crematoriums should be built within 200 yards of a residential property.
“How many of the planning committee would like a crematorium at the end of their back garden, or even in their back garden?” he demanded to know, claiming various crematorium applications around the country had been refused due to their close proximity to homes.
“This one just defies credulity,” he continued. “I cannot for the life of me understand how the planning committee let this go through. Green belt land right on top of people’s back gardens? Surely not!”
Pointing out that he himself lives on Velvet Lawn Road, Cllr Clarke sought to assure the resident 200 yards regulation had been met when the outline approval was given.
The chairman quoted the regulation again in a bid to allay another resident’s suspicion that the installation of services including gas and electric for the crematorium would prompt Meyrick Estates to apply to build housing all along the site.
New Milton Residents’ Association chairman Alan Watson told councillors he had sought views from members and of 240 responses 92% were in support.
Out of the 8% against, Mr Watson said 3% simply felt the crematorium was unnecessary while the other 5% felt one was needed but in a different location.
Ken West, a strong advocate for natural burial, voiced concerns about the pollution that can be caused by cremation.
“This is not a crematorium, it’s a waste incinerator,” he fumed. “When someone says it is environmentally friendly it’s rubbish!
“Our technology here is way behind that in other parts of the world.
“These people are going to sit on polluting incinerators hiding under the deceit of a crematorium.”
Mr West’s comment was criticised by Richard Shaw, a funeral director from Hinton Park Woodland Burial Ground.
“I don’t think you should refer to people as ‘waste’ as that is very disrespectful,” he told him.
Expressing his support for the scheme, Mr Shaw said it would be surrounded by plenty of greenspace like Westerleigh’s Test Valley facility. He also commented it would help to slow down traffic on Stem Lane, where speeding has been a reported issue.
Westerleigh’s senior development manager, Ed Aldridge explained the layout for the planned crematorium, saying it would incorporate a new entrance from Stem Lane. This will lead into a dedicated lane for the hearse and cortege leading to the site which will include a 160-space car park.
Referring to the landscaping, Mr Aldridge to the meeting “a large number” of trees would be planted at the start of construction – previously set for mid-2020. There will also be a memorial woodland area, which will be planted over time as required by mourners.
“The aim is to provide crematorium services in parts of the country where the provision is not adequate,” he said.
“The New Forest/New Milton area is one of those areas, and that is why this application was put forward.”
Mention of a condition imposed in the 2016 outline approval that the crematorium hold a maximum of eight services a day caused some consternation in the public gallery as planning clerk Theresa Elliott read out background details to the committee.
However, Cllr Clarke argued the facility’s operating times would make this “almost impossible” and speculated there would be a maximum of four to five per day.
The chairman, who represents the Bashley ward in which the proposal is sited, commented that he was one of the closest residents to it and had consequently looked very carefully at various possible impacts.
Describing the building’s design as not the “prettiest” but practical, Cllr Clarke stressed he felt a crematorium was something greatly needed in the area.
“My wife died in 2013 and I had to go through the distress of travelling to Bournemouth and getting stuck in traffic – that shouldn’t happen to the people of New Milton,” he said.
“I’m 100% satisfied that any emissions will be negligible, and they will be monitored.
“I have some concerns of traffic between Antler Drive and Bashley Crossroad, but there should be no significant traffic issues overall. I don’t believe there will be traffic jams, other than on the rare occasion when they have a particularly large service.”
Fellow Bashley ward councillor Neil Tungate explained that having been an engineer all his life the air quality report was the first thing he had reviewed.
“This will put out emissions lower than those already in the area,” he said.
Cllr Geoff Blunden agreed with Cllr Clarke’s comment about the appearance of the brick and metal structure.
“The design doesn’t do anything for me at all,” he said. “It’s a beautiful site, and I feel that something more in keeping would have been better.
“To me it’s more like flat-roof shipping containers bolted together with a barnacle on top. I just feel there could have been something a little better for the years to come, particularly as relatives could be visiting the site.
The appearance of the building was also criticised by Cllr Keith Craze, but he acknowledged its low level would at least mean it would be hidden below the surrounding tree canopy.
Arguing the town had to “look forward”, he commented that a lot of pollution could actually be reduced through less vehicle movements to and from Bournemouth.
Members voted unanimously to support the application. NFDC is scheduled to make a decision by 2nd January 2020.