Potamogeton Trichoides has the last word on £6.5m Mepal crematorium
- Credit: ECDC
Whatever leisure and recreation use come to fruition at the proposed Mepal £6.5m crematorium, potamogeton trichoides has thwarted some of them.
Wildlife experts have found that the site is a haven for it – a particular pondweed of which there is a national scarcity.
“Ecology and bio diversity is restricting the extent of activities that can be undertaken there,” says Anna Bailey, the leader of East Cambs Council. “It is controlling what can and cannot happen there.”
What has not been thwarted, however, is the enthusiasm of East Cambs Council for the project, and they have an ambitious timetable to deliver it.
A residents’ survey concludes on February 1, after which a planning application will quickly follow.
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The response to the on-line survey will be analysed during the two-week planning validation period, currently planned for February 12.
“The council is working towards submitting the planning application on February 14,” said Cllr Bailey.
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“This will be a major application and include all the phased elements of development therefore a 13-week application period will apply,” she said.
In the absence of a legal challenge the council hopes for a decision to enable it to be put out to tender and with a contractor, hopefully, appointed by November 30.
If all goes well, work could start on January 1 next year and be completed by the end of the year.
“If you are going to have a crematorium, then this is a fantastic place for it,” she said.
The council will pass running of the crematorium to its trading arm but eight jobs, including that of manager, will be recruited to run Mepal.
The council has also released some of its research into the likely benefits – and potential customers – for Mepal.
“Within 30 minutes travel time of Mepal, 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,” says a council report.
Those figures were put through a competition appraisal and other assessments with the conclusion that Mepal could attract sufficient cremations to make the project profitable.
The key finding from the qualitative survey of funeral directors was that 73 per cent would consider using alternative facilities if they became available, says the report.
The proposal for the Mepal site includes:
A 100 to 125 seat chapel with views out to the landscape setting of the site.
A small 6 to 12 seat side chapel for smaller ceremonies (including natural burials).
A natural burial area.
A pet cemetery
East Cambs Council suggest there is some irony in that that Mepal was already designated as a county wildlife site because of rare pondweed in the lake.
“However, since the closure of the outdoor centre, the ecology of the site has matured to create a unique biodiversity site in East Cambridgeshire,” says the report.
The council commissioned ecological surveys between March and November 2020.
Apart from pondweed it was discovered the site is also a habitat for otters, bats, fieldfare, song thrushes and herring gulls.
“The buildings were deemed as low to moderate potential for use by roosting bats, with no active roosts noted,” says the report.
“Subsequently, vandalism during the summer has reduced the potential of roosting bats from low to negligible. The site itself, however, offers high value for use by foraging bats.”
A winter birding survey also identified 32 species of birds, 30 of which were present onsite and two of which flew over the site.
Ecologists, supported by the Wildlife Trust, concluded that recreational activities can take place on the site “but they need to be limited to low impact activities and certain locations”.
East Cambs Council believes fishing, lakeside walking and bird watching are all feasible.
“Monitoring would need to be in place for five years to assess any potential ongoing impacts from the proposed recreational activities on site,” says the report.
Cllr Bailey said: “It is great to see that the site, which has unfortunately been subject to vandalism, has been creating a new home for important wildlife and diversity behind the scenes.”
She said the survey will provide “crucial information to support the development of a facility that is functional for all”.
The council will fund Mepal from capital receipts and borrowing.
“The borrowing will be paid off using operating profits from the crematorium,” says the report.