National cremation experts say they pointed out, before it was built, that a crematorium at Houndwood was in danger of breaching legislation.
The completed £2million crematorium in the Berwickshire hamlet has been blocked from going operational after a nearby resident invoked the 112-year-old Cremation Act.
Houndwood residents were delighted their historic B-listed church building had been saved and undergone major refurbishment as part of the crematorium project, which first received planning permission from Scottish Borders Council in 2009.
But funeral services cannot be held yet, after neighbour Dr Fraser Quin pointed out the 1902 act states crematoria need written approval of property owners living within 200 yards – Dr Quin’s home is 183 yards away and he has not given his consent.
And the childcare company director, who is prepared to sell his house to the project developers, has warned he will alert police if any cremations are carried out.
Roger Arber, secretary of the Cremation Society of Great Britain, says after it came to the society’s attention – at the planning stage – that there was a potential breach of legislation, the organisation flagged this up to both council planners and developers.
“As it stands, there is no breach – there will only be a breach if there are any cremations,” Mr Arber told us this week. “We wrote to the developers in 2012 saying there could be a breach of the act, but they never responded.”
The society was also in contact with SBC planning officials and Mr Arber added: “I find it very strange that they [SBC] granted permission for something which they knew could breach the law.
“We have a watching brief at the moment and we have letters ready for the procurator fiscal and the police if we hear there has been a breach of the Cremation Act.
“This is a fundamental piece of legislation and cannot simply be bypassed.”
Houndwood Crematorium project director Mark Lamb admits he is “very frustrated” that the scheme is on hold and claims he was led to believe the 200-yard-rule was not applicable at the time full planning permission was granted.
“We even got a Certificate of Lawfulness to open as a crematorium,” added Mr Lamb, who wants the 1902 act overhauled and is seeking meetings with government officials.
“But this delay has now resulted in the three staff already employed at the crematorium having their contracts terminated.
“We could hold a service to test the law, but I don’t want to find ourselves operating for three months, then having to shut to sort it out and disappointing bereaved families.”
But Dr Quin remains unrepentant and says he finds it “incredible” the developers have still never contacted him.
“This is not sour grapes from me – I’m the one acting within the law. I just don’t want to live next door to a crematorium,” he said.
Asked to comment, SBC said: “We responded to trade bodies who commented on the planning application in early 2012.
“The council provided a detailed explanation of the legal position and in particular pointed out the 1902 Act was not a matter the council could legally take into account when determining the planning application. This was and remains a civil matter.”