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Natural burial ground set to host one service a day as plans approved

By Gurdip Thandi | Walsall | News | Published:

Controversial plans to allow a natural burial ground in Walsall to increases services to one a day have been approved.

Protesters, including Ruth Meeke and Councillor Richard Worrall fighting plans to increase services at a natural burial ground in Rushall

And residents have warned planners have made a “huge mistake” after the proposal for the facility at Winterley Lane was narrowly passed by Walsall Council’s planning committee on Thursday following a tense meeting.

This means owners of the site will be allowed to increase the number of burials from the current 50-a-year maximum they are permitted.

But residents, who strongly objected to the proposal due to concerns about the impact of increased traffic on the country lane and potential negative impacts on the environment, said they were disappointed with the decision.

The issue had been deferred from last month’s committee, which also resulted in an emotionally-charged debate, to enable further assessments on the impact on highways to be carried out.

Aerial view showing site of natural burial ground off Winterley Lane in Rushall, Walsall

Applicant Aldridge Construction Engineering Limited provided extra information on traffic flows and parking facilities at other cemeteries.

Officers said they were satisfied the increased number of burials a year would not have a negative impact on the area as 50 car parking spaces would be provided and services would be restricted to off-peak hours between 10am and 3pm.

Despite this, a group of residents held a protest outside the council house prior to the meeting urging members to vote against the proposal.

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Neighbouring land owner Ruth Meeke spoke out against the plan at the meeting and said the data gathered from other facilities was not comparable as they were situated on bigger A and B roads.

She added that, even in off-peak times, the road is used by dog-walkers, families taking children to the playing fields as well as people on the school run.

Residents have been backed in their fight by cross party ward councillors Richard Worrall of Labour and Tory Lorna Rattigan, who also spoke at the meeting.

But representatives of the applicants said there had been no statutory objections to the plan from bodies including highways and the environment agency.

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The application once again split the chamber as it did last month, although eight of the total of 20 committee members were unable to make the meeting.

Chairman Mike Bird said they had no planning reasons to vote against the officers’ recommendation to approve.

Senior planning and highways officers warned that a refusal would leave them open to a planning inspectorate inquiry which they would likely lose and be hit with a huge costs’ bill.

Committee deputy chairman Garry Perry, however, said he had done research and found evidence that showed natural burials quicken the decomposition process, which increases the risk of ground water contamination.

He also said he was not confident a need for additional burials had been proved while the impact on the road and amenities for residents would be too detrimental.

When the proposal was passed, Ruth Meeke told members: “All these people here today are representing their local community.

“What you’ve done today is actually make a huge mistake. When there is an accident down that road, it will be on your heads.”

After the meeting, Councillor Worrall said: “We are all very disappointed at the outcome, the poor turnout of councillors on the night, and what we saw as undue pressure on members to approve.”

Gurdip Thandi

By Gurdip Thandi
@Gurdo

Local Democracy Reporter covering Walsall.

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