Urgent approval of a further £30,000 of expenditure has been agreed by East Cambridgeshire District Council to bring forward a full business case for “a potential crematorium” to be built at Mepal.
Isabel Edgar, who joined the council last year as operations director, said the money was needed to finalise outstanding details ahead of presenting the full business case to the council’s finance and assets committee.
“Under the constitution I am required to consult with the leader of the council prior to delegated decisions being made,” she says.
“I will subsequently inform the leader of Liberal Democrats and chairman of council.”
In a memorandum, seen by CambsNews, Ms Edgar explains that “the council had committed to bringing forward a full business case on the proposals for a potential crematorium to be built in the district”.
She says this followed “approval of an outline business case and subsequently securing planning permission for a crematorium at natural burial site facility at Mepal.
“To bring forward the final business case officers require more detailed advice relating to the application of VAT on the capital build and proposal for the delivery model should it get approval”.
The operations director adds: “To undertake this work, further financial provision should be made up to £30,000.”
She says this will enable the work to be “completed promptly so that the full business case can be considered at the next appropriate finance and assets committee ahead of it going to the full council”.
No recent figure has been put on the cost of building – and running – the crematorium. An earlier figure of £6.5m to build is likely to have jumped significantly following the considerable rise in labour and materials costs in the past two years.
East Cambridgeshire District Council won approval from its planning committee last year for the crematorium to be built on the site of the former Mepal Outdoor Centre.
The council argued that within 30 minutes travel time of the Mepal site, “it has been quantified that there is a potential market of 993 cremations per annum based on a population of 195,390 people, 1,807 deaths per annum and 1,355 cremations per annum”.
It summed up its thoughts in a public statement which said: “Following a competition appraisal, an analysis of usage of the current and planned crematoria and the impact of the crematorium on the Mepal site, it is projected that the number of cremations that is achievable is sufficient to make the project profitable.”
And in a survey of funeral directors, it said the “key finding from the qualitative survey was that 73% of responding funeral directors stated they would consider using alternative facilities if they became available”
What do funeral directors think?
However, as I revealed two years ago, that summary failed to reflect the true level of ‘support’ from the handful of funeral directors who responded to the council’s crematorium proposals.
Throughout October and November 2018, the council “sought feedback” to evaluate need.
Funeral directors from Ely, Chatteris, Cambridge, Willingham, Ramsay, Wisbech, Bury St Edmunds, Lakenheath, Ely, Newmarket, March, Soham, and Downham Market were contacted.
Only 11 responses were received but the council argued these provided “vital information.
“Of note, was the finding that 73 per cent (eight) would consider using alternative facilities in the area if they became available,” says a report presented to councillors.
Once the plans were formulated and “with the funeral directors showing signs of support” an outline business plan was created
The public, when surveyed, were cool about the proposals.
188 people responded to survey -what did they think?
Only 13 per cent of those who took part in an online survey by East Cambridgeshire District Council supported the crematorium at Mepal.
A community involvement report presented to the planning committee contained responses from 188 people who took part in a survey featuring 28 questions.
These relate to need, experience at other crematoria, design, green credentials, ecology, and recreation.
The final question provided an opportunity for last views.
Of 123 who commented, 28.5 per cent preferred for Mepal to remain an outdoor centre.
A further 28.5 per cent “do not think the site is the right location”.
And 22 per cent are “against the proposal as they do not think there is a need for another crematorium in the district”.
Only 13 per cent said they welcomed it.
Described by one councillor as ‘white elephant’
Simon Harries, then a Lib Dem councillor, described the crematorium as a “white elephant”.
He said it was “unwanted, unneeded, environmentally unsound, a huge source of financial risk, depriving us of our best leisure asset”.
Cllr John Trapp said: “I am dubious about it, will not serve the southeast or southwest, anything below it will not serve.”
But Cllr Lis Every said it had been a “tortuous hard process” to get to this stage, but she felt people would be proud of it in this area.
Meanwhile Ms Edgar who announced on the LinkedIn profile on her appointment to East Cambs that she was looking forward to “getting my teeth into fresh new challenges and exciting opportunities”.
Mepal is certainly all of that.
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