Billington and Langho Community Centre was swamped with so many people that proposals for a 10,000 space burial ground, to predominantly serve Blackburn with Darwen and the Muslim community, had to be heard in two separate sessions.
Plans are expected to be submitted to Ribble Valley Borough Council in the next two to three weeks before going before the planning committee later in the year.
Bosses at Northcote hotel and restaurant, directly opposite the proposed burial ground, have already aired their objections to the plans on the 27 acre site.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans could not attend the meeting but in a letter stated he is “totally and unequivocally opposed” to the application.
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Justin Smith, from Cemetery Development Services, acting for the applicant Blackburn with Darwen Muslim Cemetery Trust, told the meeting the reason for the application off Northcote Road was that Blackburn would have no remaining cemetery space within a decade.
He said: “The UK is running out of burial space, it’s a matter of fact. It has been shown nationally and regionally and Blackburn is no exception.”
Mr Smith said the cemetery would be managed by a charitable trust and its design would be natural, meaning hardstanding would be kept to an absolute minimum and internal paths and roads would be reinforced grass.
He said required sight lines for the entrance could be achieved and the car park would have room for 100 cars.
Mr Smith said the building itself would be totally sustainable, modest in size at 180sq.m., very well screened and made from millstone grit and wood with a sedum roof.
He said part of the plan would be to plant 5,000 trees, 3,000 shrubs, 18,000 bulbs, 1,000 aquatic plants and wildflower meadows, along with water features.
Mr Smith said the site would be built in phases and, in terms of burial density, he said it would be about half that of a municipal cemetery, and at a single depth. He said there would be no coffins, headstones or embalming.
Mr Smith said, with the anticipated rate of 70 to 100 burials a year on a 27 acre site, it would take 75 years to fill and numbers would be environmentally regulated.
The meeting heard significant traffic surveys had been conducted which found the impact on traffic to be small.
Groundwater pollution had also been a concern, but significant surveys had been carried out with the Environment Agency who were in approval on condition of a number of burial restrictions and no burial within buffer areas around streams.
Ribble Valley Coun. Stephen Atkinson, who represents Billington and Old Langho, repeated questions and answers from the first session to those in the second sitting.
He asked if Shia Muslim burial would be allowed and why, even though multi-faith, is there to be segregation. Shia Muslim burial would be allowed and the cemetery would be multi-faith despite the segregation, the applicant confirmed.
Coun. Atkinson asked what would happen, as women of the Muslim faith are discouraged from burial as they are feint of heart, if a woman was present at the cemetery when a Muslim burial arrived. The applicant also said it would be allowed.
Coun. Atkinson also said Mr Smith had indicated the site would be closed during Eid as highways are not happy with the level of traffic at Eid celebrations in Blackburn which attracts 4,000 visits.
Coun. Atkinson said the proposed site was “unenforceable” because of its open nature. He added there was eight years of burial space remaining at Pleasington cemetery and there were more suitable locations in Blackburn.
Mr Smith was then asked several questions by the public.
Grilled as to why Blackburn and Darwen was looking at the Ribble Valley location, Mr Smith said it was not unusual for burial sites to be in a neighbouring borough.
He said they had looked at several sites within Blackburn and Darwen. However, some were unsuitable due to groundwater or current residential or commercial use, and the amount of greenbelt, where cemeteries are considered “inappropriate”, meant further restriction.
Asked about expanded cemetery plans within Blackburn, Mr Smith said, as far as he was aware, they had run into problems with groundwater issues.
With no embalming or sealed coffins, Mr Smith was tackled about infection control. He said contamination is “very unlikely”, as evidence showed most pathogen decay occurs within a few inches of the body because soil bacteria destroys it.
Asked as to why he had put a 30-minute drive time in the presentation, Mr Smith said it was because of a requirement in Cornwall where it was deemed an reasonable time.
After the meeting, Brian Lamb, of the Langho Matters group, said: “They have changed a few things on plans but we will see what comes when it is in black and white.”
Craig Bancroft, Managing Director of Northcote group, said with home and leisure expansion on the access road, he did not know what had changed since a similar application was refused 10 years ago, adding the positioning made no sense.
Mr Bancroft said: “The traffic has multiplied greatly on that road since it was refused on the grounds of traffic.
“In the case of a funeral, my father’s funeral, 170 people attended. We had no idea. We overfilled the church in Whalley and everybody came back to Northcote.
“My point is you cannot say there will only be 40 cars attending a funeral and you cannot put that concession in place because you can’t enforce it. It’s impossible.
“There’s only standing room for five cars off the A59 on that roundabout turning into Northcote Road. If you have a cavalcade, what are you going to do with it?
“And if it coincides with Langho Juniors football club, a showground and a busy Northcote, you will not get down that road. It’s complete nonsense.
“At the end of the day, we built an iconic establishment which employs 70 people and spent £2.5m. on supply within 25 miles of Northcote. We are a micro-economy in ourself.
“This will damage our business for sure if it goes ahead, there’s no question about that, and that is a very grave situation when we’ve had an entrepreneur in Richard Matthewman with so much conviction to support a wonderful development in the Ribble Valley.”