Preston set for new cemetery where mourning space will be limited - while the city’s crematorium gets a capacity boost
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It is estimated that there is room for just 1,350 new plots at the city’s two cemeteries, located either side of Miller Road in Ribbleton.
A Preston City Council meeting heard that the authority owns only one site that is likely to be suitable for a new graveyard - an area of land next to Preston Crematorium.
However, councillors were told that a new facility - either at the suggested location, off Longridge Road, or any other - was unlikely to be able to accommodate the “large numbers” of people who currently attend some graveside services.
In contrast, plans are also afoot to double the capacity of the crematorium itself, in order to provide space inside the building for around 150 mourners. At the moment, only 80 can fit inside and some services have to be relaid to guests outside via loudspeakers.
The council will now launch a consultation with residents and interested parties into the future of burial provision in the city, which will include a potential increase in burial fees at the current sites. Preston’s burial charges are amongst the lowest in Lancashire.
The majority of people who pass away in Preston are cremated, with around 1,300 cremations taking place each year.
Of the average 250 burials that are carried out annually, 150 are in existing graves in which others have already been interred, while the remaining hundred are in newly-dug plots.
Cabinet member for planning and regulation David Borrow told the meeting of the full council that the authority had been working on its proposals for more than a year - and warned that even though the new cemetery was unlikely to be needed until the early 2030s, it will take around half of the intervening period to bring a new burial site into use.
“The land, once it's prepared, needs to be left for several years before graves can be dug. So the timescale for the city is to be in a position to press the button and start the work in five years,” Cllr Borrow explained.
He added that he had already had “some very open and frank discussions” with the Preston Muslim Burial Society about the capacity of any new burial ground next to the crematorium to host mourners in significant numbers.
“For a Muslim burial, we try [to] arrange that within 24 hours. Our staff would normally get a phonecall first thing in the morning and the funeral will take place in the afternoon - and a lot of mourners will turn up.
“That can be accommodated at the existing cemetery, [but] there is a real challenge in terms of the [proposed] new cemetery…as to whether numbers can [be] managed, both in terms of cars…[and] individuals. So that conversation needs to be had,” Cllr Borrow said.
A report presented to councillors stated that as the authority considers its next steps, work will have to be undertaken “ to discourage the attendance of large numbers of people at any cemetery”.
“Current patterns of behaviour would prohibit most, if not all, sites available for consideration,” the document warned.
Speaking to the Lancashire Post after the meeting, a volunteer with Preston Muslim Burial Society implored the council to continue to meet the needs of mourners from all of the city's many faith communities.
Imran Patel said: "A core value that resonates across humanity [is] the act of coming together to support families during challenging times of bereavement.
"In Preston, communities have shown remarkable unity by extending their heartfelt assistance to families dealing with loss. Muslims, in particular, have demonstrated an inspiring commitment to this principle.
"It's noteworthy that they stand united, regardless of their familiarity with the deceased or the grieving family. It is for this reason we see hundreds and in some cases thousands gather to support the grieving.
"Understanding the diverse needs of the communities it serves, we encourage the council to adopt an inclusive approach. By listening and considering the various requirements that different communities might have during times of bereavement, the council can play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of belonging and support.
"As the consultation takes place, we urge the council to reflect on these universal values and aspirations and ensure it facilitates for the diverse communities it serves," Mr. Patel added.
Cllr Borrow told the meeting that any shift in current Muslim burial practices would also affect how quickly the space at the existing facilities may be used up - with the community currently “overwhelmingly” choosing to use fresh graves for their deceased. However, he noted that it was not a “doctrinal” requirement to do so.
Of the 100 new graves dug in Preston each year, around half are for Muslim burials. The new cemetery would be for people of all religions and none.
The city authority has not yet publicly pinpointed the exact site that it is eyeing for the new facility, declining to tell the Post whether it is on land within the crematorium or a separate plot alongside it - and no decision has yet been taken to use it.
Either way, at the current rate of 250 burials a year, it would be able to meet the needs of the city for between 30 and 40 years, councillors were told.
The exact cost of creating a new cemetery cannot be known until a site has been confirmed and explored in detail, but it is expected to run into “several millions of pounds” - with the bill necessarily increasing if a non-council-owned land has to be purchased.
It would require planning permission and the approval of the Environment Agency, in relation to drainage issues. Cllr Borrow said that “initial checks” had indicated that the site next to the crematorium would be suitable, but that further work was needed. That process will involve the use of external specialists to explore the overall suitability of the land.
Details of the consultation are expected to be published shortly and will also include work with the signatories to the city’s Faith Covenant.
Local authorities are not obliged to provide burial sites and residents in some places have to use facilities in other council areas or turn to privately-run plots.
Preston’s cemeteries are run in conjunction with the crematorium and, together, they are cost neutral to the city council.
The old Preston cemetery opened in 1855 and houses 25,000 graves, while there are 21,000 resting places in the new facility, which came into operation in the 1920s.
Burials in existing graves will continue to take place once space for new ones has been exhausted.
BOOSTING THE CAPACITY OF THE CREMATORIUM
Design and planning work to expand the capacity of the crematorium is set to begin, after councillors allocated £35,000 for it to be carried out.
The existing building dates back to the 1960s and Cllr Borrow said that cremation ceremonies had changed significantly in the decades since.
“Forty or 50 years ago, most families would have had a service in [a] place of worship and then the immediate family would have gone to the crematorium. The model now is for the service to take place at the crematorium and many families will double-up [by booking] two slots.
“We end up with people stood outside with loudspeakers, because there isn’t enough room inside,” he explained.
The furnaces at the Preston facility are due to be replaced by 2032, at an estimated cost of £1m.
A report presented to councillors says that the proposed changes will allow for the modernisation of a building whose capacity has previously been increased “in a fragmented way” and will ensure services can be “sensitively and appropriately conducted”.
The crematorium will remain operational during the expansion works.