Crematorium off back-burner

Hampden
Hampden

THE region’s first crematorium is set to be operational in Melrose by the end of this year.

A wrangle over access to adjoining land, required to be planted with trees and shrubs as part of the £2.6million project, has been resolved, TheSouthern can reveal.

And Borders building companies are being invited to apply for inclusion on a tendering list which will be drawn up during the next six weeks, with construction due to start in May.

“The project is ideal for a medium-sized company and we would be delighted to hear from local contractors,” said Adrian Britton, operations manager of Bristol-based Westerleigh.

The firm, the UK’s second largest crematorium operator, was granted planning permission for the facility by Scottish Borders Council’s development control committee in November 2009.

The delay in construction relates to a condition imposed by councillors, who voted by eight votes to two to approve the venture, despite around 150 objections.

Consent depended on Westerleigh presenting in advance its proposals to plant out around eight acres of land adjoining its site next to Wairds Cemetery, with the purpose of lessening the visual impact of the crematorium.

Mr Britton explained: “The planting relates to the lower slope of the Eildons to the rear of our development and an area of farmland to the west, towards Newstead.

“Unfortunately, discussions with the landowner of the latter piece of ground were protracted to say the least, but I am happy to report that these outstanding issues have now been resolved.”

The condition regarding planting, which will take an estimated 10 years to fulfil its screening function, was imposed to address fears that the building would be visually intrusive on land which is part of the Eildon Hills National Scenic Area.

That landscape designation was cited by many of the dissenters in what turned out to be a controversial planning application.

Indeed, because of objections from Scottish Natural Heritage, permission had to be ratified by Scottish ministers who have given the development their blessing, eschewing the option to “call-in” the decision which would have resulted in a public inquiry.

There was universal acknowledgement in the submission to SBC that the Borders should have its own crematorium, but the choice of location was a major bone of contention.

Apart from 150 individual objections, an action group organised a protest petition which attracted 1,350 signatures.

However, there were also nearly 100 letters of support for Westerleigh’s proposal as well as another petition – raised by the Presbytery of Jedburgh – which had 1,339 signatures.

SBC leader David Parker, who represents the Leaderdale and Melrose ward, was also an avid backer of the project, claiming it had the support of the majority of Borderers who had waited 30 years for a crematorium in the region.

In February last year, police launched an investigation into the discovery within Wairds Cemetery of a macabre tableau, including an effigy of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond hanging from a tree, which appeared to be a sinister gesture of displeasure at Westerleigh’s proposals.

A sign tied to a wooden pole contained the names of leading players in the planning decision, including Mr Britton and Mr Parker. The police probe drew a blank.

This week, Mr Parker admitted he had recently been approached by a number of individuals and groups who had expressed concern over a perceived lack of progress with the crematorium 15 months after the planning go-ahead was given.

But he told us: “I am absolutely delighted work on the crematorium is set to begin this year. Hopefully before the end of the calendar year this much-needed and long-awaited facility will open.

“I am also impressed with the operator’s commitment to consider Borders businesses for the construction and I would encourage all Borders building firms to contact Westerleigh with a view to being involved with this important development.

“Many people will be heartened to hear that the crematorium is to become a reality and I can’t think of a more fitting place in the Borders to end life’s great journey.”

Mr Britton said he appreciated the disquiet over the delay. “I hope people appreciate this was entirely down to a planning condition,” he added.

The new facility, with a roof height of 7.5m and a chimney extending to 8m, will contain an 84-seater chapel with standing room for 100 outside and a timber floral canopy. A mixture of natural stone and timber will be used and there will be 25 on-site parking spaces, with room for a further 43 cars when the verge of the Boglie Burn road, which will access the site, is redeveloped.

Initially, up to 600 cremations a year will take place, rising to a maximum of 850.