A full business plan to build a state-of-the-art solar-powered bereavement centre alongside a lakeside setting at Mepal is to go before East Cambridgeshire District Councillors.

The plan for the council-owned land includes a solar-powered crematorium, natural burial area, and a pet cemetery.

The use of solar panels will mean it’s one of the first electric cremators in the country to be powered by renewable energy.

These release around 90% less carbon than a conventional gas cremator.

The proposals will go before members of ECDC's Finance and Assets Committee on January 25.

Ely Standard: The proposed layout

The council is seeking approval to allocate a £9 million contribution of community infrastructure levy (CIL) money to build the centre.

This is money provided to the council when new developments are built, to assist it in providing new community facilities.

The money for the bereavement centre is in addition to CIL money already set aside for leisure, community projects and new infrastructure.

If approved, it will provide the district’s first multi-faith bereavement centre.

In addition to a 125-seat chapel with views overlooking the lake, and a smaller chapel for intimate gatherings, there will also be an area for woodland burials, memorial tree planting, a remembrance wall, lakeside walk and a pet cemetery.

State of the art digital media will give families the option to use video and livestream services via the internet to mourners unable to be present on the day.

If approved, it is expected work will start on the bereavement centre as early as the summer, helping to transform what is a derelict brownfield site, prone to anti-social behaviour, into a much- needed community facility.

Ely Standard: The existing site

Anna added: “This is very much a community project. As it progresses, we will keep residents informed of our plans and look at ways we can work together to provide the best service we can for the people of East Cambridgeshire.

“For many years, this site has been unloved. Following an arson attack and closure as an outdoor centre, the council has been open to ways we can breathe new life into the site.

“The council worked cross party to try to secure a new operator to continue the leisure use of the site, but despite huge efforts on two occasions the only provider that showed interest decided it just wasn’t viable. 

“What we now know about this site, and it’s a cause for celebration, is that rare and nationally important species have made the site home, including otters, rare pond plants, bats and fieldfares.

“Their existence has led to the lake being declared a County Wildlife site, with the Wildlife Trust confirming it is no longer suitable for use for recreational activities such as sailing, canoeing and paddleboarding.

“Over the years the site has also been a target for anti-social behaviour, including two arson attacks. The first of these, which took place in December 2016, destroyed the main buildings, caused the closure of the centre, and could easily have led to more catastrophic consequences.

“Doing nothing would require the council to pay for proactive ecological management and the continued provision of expensive security arrangements.

“However, we are confident that because we already own the land and have proven experience of generating income for the council, within two years the bereavement centre, which will provide services to families at or below the market rate, will also begin to generate an income for the council.

“This will help support the council’s finances over the coming years.  This much-loved site will be able to continue supporting the wildlife that has made it their home, as well as providing a new service and support to residents at a time of need in their lives, in a beautiful and reflective setting.”

In addition to creating seven jobs, the site will also act as a nature reserve, with dedicated areas where people can walk their dogs on a lead and enjoy bird watching. The council is also exploring working with a club to resume fishing at the site.