Plans to build a new crematorium have taken a step forward after East Cambridgeshire District Council formally agreed to use over £9million of developer funding towards the project.

The authority’s plans for its new bereavement centre in Mepal have faced backlash from opposition councillors who argue it is not wanted by people in the area.

They also accused the leadership of having a “flawed” business plan, and said it could run a nearby crematorium “into the ground”.

However, the leader of the district council, Councillor Anna Bailey (Conservative), said the new facility could be a “much loved community asset”.

At a meeting of the full council this week (February 20), Cllr Bailey said the authority had held the ambition to build a new crematorium for the growing district since 2016.

She said the new bereavement centre in Mepal would offer a “quality service closer to home with lower prices”.

Cllr Bailey said: “It is a really beautiful setting and it does have a special atmosphere which we believe will be really supportive to bereaved families.

“I think, uniquely for a crematorium, it will enable and support people to revisit in future should they wish to remember their loved ones.”

Cllr Bailey highlighted the site is now a designated country park and said high impact leisure activities can no longer take place there as had been the case in the past.

The proposal was supported by other Conservative councillors, including Councillor Julia Huffer who said she had attended services at other crematoriums in the county that she described as “ghastly”.

Cllr Huffer said when the time came she would want to say goodbye to her own mother at the proposed Mepal crematorium.

She said: “This is not about money, this is about providing a facility for the living where people can go somewhere and say goodbye and remember.”

However, Councillor Mark Inskip (Liberal Democrat) said the new crematorium would not even be the nearest facility for “a large number of East Cambridgeshire residents”.

He said the £9.06million of developer contributions from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) that are due to be used to fund the project should be spent on other things that benefit people across the district.

Cllr Inskip highlighted that a survey previously conducted on the proposals showed that the majority of people did not support the plans to build a crematorium.

He also argued the business case for the crematorium was “flawed”, and said the council papers recognised the Mepal crematorium would be in competition with the crematorium in March.

Councillor Lorna Dupré (Liberal Democrat) accused the council leadership of building the crematorium to “laundromat £9m developer contributions into ready cash to subsidise council tax”.

She said the Mepal crematorium would enter a “vicious price war” with the March crematorium and could “run it into the ground”.

Cllr Dupré added that plans to “mitigate the competition” with the crematorium owned by Huntingdon Town Council were essentially suggesting the creation of a “cartel”, and claimed that sort of “collusion” between businesses was “punishable by five years in jail for directors”.

Cllr Bailey said the district council had used the CIL funding to pay for other community infrastructure across the area, and said there was still “significant funds left” for more projects.

She said building the crematorium was a “totally appropriate use of CIL money” adding that it was “literally a piece of community infrastructure”.

Cllr Bailey also disputed the argument that many people in the district did not want the crematorium and said she had been contacted by people who had told her they believed it was a “wonderful idea”.