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Political row breaks out as £9m developer contributions agreed to fund new Mepal crematorium

More than £9million of developer funding will be used by East Cambridgeshire District Council to progress plans for a new crematorium.

But the Conservative-run authority’s plans for the new bereavement centre in Mepal have faced backlash from opposition councillors, who argue it is not wanted by people in the area.

How the Mepal bereavement centre could look. Picture: East Cambs District Council
How the Mepal bereavement centre could look. Picture: East Cambs District Council

They have accused the leadership of having a “flawed” business plan and warned it could run a nearby crematorium “into the ground”.

But council leader Cllr Anna Bailey (Con, Downham), said the new facility could be a “much- loved community asset”.

At a meeting of the full council last week, Cllr Bailey said the authority had held the ambition to build a new crematorium for the growing district since 2016.

She said the new bereavement centre in Mepal would offer a “quality service closer to home with lower prices”.

Cllr Bailey said: “It is a really beautiful setting and it does have a special atmosphere which we believe will be really supportive to bereaved families.

“I think uniquely for a crematorium it will enable and support people to revisit in future should they wish to remember their loved ones.”

Cllr Bailey noted that the site is now a designated country park, meaning high impact leisure activities can no longer take place there.

The proposal was supported by other Conservative councillors, including Cllr Julia Huffer (Con, Fordham and Isleham), who said she had attended services at other crematoriums in the county that she described as “ghastly”.

Cllr Huffer said when the time came she would want to say goodbye to her own mother at the proposed Mepal crematorium.

She said: “This is not about money. This is about providing a facility for the living where people can go somewhere and say goodbye and remember.”

However, Cllr Mark Inskip (Lib Dem, Sutton) said the new crematorium would not even be the nearest facility for “a large number of East Cambridgeshire residents”.

He said the £9.06m in developer contributions from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) due to be used to fund the project should be spent on other things that benefit people across the district.

He highlighted that a survey had showed a majority of people did not support the plans, argued the business case was “flawed” and said council papers recognised the facility would be in competition with the crematorium in March.

Cllr Lorna Dupré (Lib Dem, Sutton) accused the council leadership of building the crematorium to “laundromat £9m developer contributions into ready cash to subsidise council tax”.

She said the Mepal crematorium would enter a “vicious price war” with the March crematorium and could “run it into the ground”.

Cllr Dupré added that plans to “mitigate the competition” with the crematorium owned by Huntingdon Town Council were essentially suggesting the creation of a “cartel”, and claimed that sort of “collusion” between businesses was “punishable by five years in jail for directors”.

Cllr Bailey said the district council had used the CIL funding to pay for other community infrastructure across the area, and said there were still “significant funds left” for more projects.

She said building the crematorium was a “totally appropriate use of CIL money” adding that it was “literally a piece of community infrastructure”.

Cllr Bailey also disputed that many people did not want the crematorium, stating she had been contacted by people who had told her they believed it was a “wonderful idea”.

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