Fenland Council queries East Cambs £6.5m crematorium

Mepal outdoor centre

Mepal Outdoor Centre (top) has been flattened after East Cambs Council authorised its demolition. Other images show its past, and possible future. - Credit: ARCHANT

Fenland Council has raised concerns over the location and the decision by East Cambridgeshire District Council to operate a rival crematorium.  

East Cambs is consulting on its £6.5m crematorium on the site of the outdoor centre at Mepal.

Councillors Lorna Dupre and Mark Inskip at Mepal during the campaign to preserve it. 

Councillors Lorna Dupre and Mark Inskip at Mepal during the campaign to preserve it. - Credit: EAST CAMBS LIB DEMS

 It will have a memorial garden, natural burial areas, pet cemetery, car parking, and new access. 

And be less than 10 miles from March, where a successful crematorium opened 11 years ago.  

Gavin Taylor, senior development management officer at Fenland Council, says “it is best practice for the council to be able to establish the need for the development”. 

Mepal to March - under 10 miles

Mepal to March - under 10 miles - Credit: Google

This, he said, needed to be both locationally - in view of the high flood risk area - and commercially in respect of existing/ permitted crematoria in the vicinity. 

Mr Taylor highlighted what he feels Fenland Council believes are the “main potential impacts to residents and visitors”. 

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These include the A142 Ireton’s Way “which has seen a number of collisions in recent years”. 

And he warned that future operations “may give rise to adverse impacts on air quality and odour nuisance if not properly managed”. 

Demolition incomplete of Mepal Outdoor Centre as fences are insecure.,Mepal, Wednesday 29 December

Demolition incomplete of Mepal Outdoor Centre as fences are insecure., Mepal, Wednesday 29 December 2021. - Credit: Terry Harris

Noting that planning permission was granted to expand the adjacent anaerobic digestor, noise might need to be factored into the design. 

Mr Taylor adds: “Therefore, whilst no objection is raised to the principle of this development, the above matters require careful consideration.” 

Cllr Mark Inskip, an East Cambs councillor who represents Mepal, complained that “the demolition wrecking ball” was taken to the outdoor centre even before the crematorium application was approved. 

He said over a quarter of a million pounds has been spent on preparing the planning application and on the demolition work.  

“The council estimates it will need to spend a further £6.54 million to develop the crematorium, leading to a total cost not far short of £7 million,” he said. 

Aerial images showing last night's fire at the Mepal Outdoor Centre, near Chatteris.

Aerial images showing a fire at the Mepal Outdoor Centre, near Chatteris. - Credit: Daniel Easy

And this was despite a public consultation showing 85.4 per cent of those surveyed opposed to it whilst only 13 per cent expressed support. 

Cllr Inskip said a decision deadline has come and gone and East Cambs still has issues to resolve. 

He said the county waste and minerals planning authority has objected, claiming East Cambs has failed to say how it would comply with county wide policy.  

"Another statutory consultee, the Lead Local Flood Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council, continue to object to the grant of planning permission,” he said. 

Five separate reasons were offered covering issues such as surface water drainage, adoption and maintenance of the drainage system, overland flood flow routes and lack of evidence of consultation with the Environment Agency. 

Mepal Outdoor Leisure Centre. Aerial views taken on July 31st

Mepal Outdoor Leisure Centre. Aerial views taken on July 31st last year show the scope and scale of the centre. It also shows some of the damage caused by arson attacks. - Credit: Terry Harris

“There is no guarantee that these objections can be adequately resolved and the council should not be assuming with certainty that it can gain approval for the crematorium plans,” said Cllr Inskip. 

“It is therefore shocking that East Cambs Council has gone ahead with the destruction of all of the existing outdoor centre facilities.  

“This makes revisiting the option of using the site for recreation and leisure much more difficult. 

“Does the district council have a ‘Plan B’ should the crematorium planning application fail?" 

 
East Cambs Council completed demolition of the former outdoor centre before Christmas. 

Mepal parish council has concerns “regarding possible odours” either from the crematorium or the AD plant that could affect those attending funerals. 

 Karen Peck is clerk to Mepal parish council and submitted their response to the application.

She wrote:  “Assuming that the crematorium is built, it would be useful to publish actual measured emissions in the first year to confirm the accuracy of the pre-planning assessment.  

Mepal Outdoor Leisure Centre. Aerial views taken on July 31st show the scope and scale of the centre

Mepal Outdoor Leisure Centre. Aerial views taken on July 31st, 2021, show the scope and scale of the centre. It also shows some of the damage caused by arson attacks. - Credit: Terry Harris

“There is little that can be done to mitigate against AD odours drifting over the site causing mourners discomfort”. 

Mepal parish council also has traffic concerns, noting there is no footway along the A142 but a bus stop adjacent to the site.  

Its feels additional consideration should be given to pedestrian access. 

“Access to and from the site onto the A142, particularly with the increased traffic predicted to the adjacent AD plant may be problematical,” says the parish council 

And the parish council – because of a number of near misses and accidents - would like a speed limit of 40mph between the two A141 roundabouts. 

Mepal parish council is also concerned about six proposed parking spaces for dog walking, bird watching and licensed angling.  

“Given the remote nature of the site and limited pedestrian access, I feel that six parking spaces is inadequate,” says the clerk. 

Cllr Inskip, together with fellow ward councillor Lorna Dupre, have also told East Cambs Council alternative models for using the site “have not been extensively explored which may have been more viable 

“It should also be noted that post-COVID there is an increased focus on outdoor leisure facilities. 

“The district council has therefore not demonstrated that there is no longer a need for the existing use as an outdoor leisure facility.” 

They accuse East Cambs of not providing “a robust case to justify the need for a new crematorium in this part of the district.  

“There is already significant nearby provision with the Fenland crematorium in March along with the new crematorium opening this year in Huntingdon.  

“The identified catchment area identified by the applicant for potential crematorium locations is centred on Ely rather than East Cambridgeshire District.  

“This results in significant overlap on the western side with areas served by the Fenland and Hunts Crematoria.  

Demolition incomplete of Mepal Outdoor Centre as fences are insecure.,Mepal, Wednesday 29 December

Demolition of Mepal Outdoor Centre. Wednesday 29 December 2021. - Credit: Terry Harris

“This is particularly true for the Mepal outdoor centre location.  

“It should be noted that the planning application for the Huntingdon crematorium included a comprehensive needs assessment which was considered as part of the planning approval process.  

“No similar needs assessment has been provided for this application and yet establishing a robust case for the need for a new crematorium at this location is essential given the corresponding loss of outdoor leisure.” 

They point out that a survey of funeral directors undertaken by the council elicited just 11 responses. 

Mepal crematorium

Mepal crematorium - proposed. - Credit: Archant

They also believe East Cambs has not evaluated numbers using the crematorium and claim Huntingdon crematorium transport assessment – of a similar size – expects many more attendees.  

"It is essential that any decision on the approval of this application is seen to be made objectively,” they claim.  

That decision can be expected soon – but not as soon clearly as the council would have liked.