Reigate MP Crispin Blunt is among those opposing a planning application by Reigate & Banstead Borough Council for a crematorium in Woodhatch.
The site, which is both greenfield and green belt, is located near Earlswood Lakes, but on the other side of Woodhatch Road.
Announcing the planning application in January, the council said the new facility is needed because families must currently travel outside the borough for cremations, “usually as far as Leatherhead, Crawley or Croydon”.
The council added: “Feedback from local funeral directors also suggests that bereaved families can experience longer than average wait times for convenient service times.
“The plans are for a modern, low profile crematorium with a ceremony hall that seats 120 mourners, a waiting room, a flower court and a covered area with audiovisual facilities so services can be relayed outside for larger ceremonies. The facility would be set into an attractively landscaped garden of remembrance that complements the surrounding landscape.
“As part of the plans, 3,000 square metres of new woodland trees would be planted along with 100 structural trees and native hedging. New tree and shrub planting in the gardens and around the building, together with a wildflower meadow, will help the site to blend in with the wider environment.”
Local footpaths will also be improved, with new circular routes, and the building’s environmental features will include a green roof and solar panels.
Executive member Cllr Tim Archer said: “We want this crematorium to be a tranquil and nature-filled place where family and friends can remember their loved ones, while complementing the surrounding landscape and minimising the impact on neighbours.”
But Crispin Blunt MP has submitted a written objection: “I am opposed to this proposed development on the grounds that I am not convinced that special circumstances exist to justify the further despoiling of local greenfield land which is part of the London Metropolitan Green Belt.
“The existing provision of crematoria locally is not critically inadequate nor particularly distant or difficult to access, there being crematoria in Crawley, Leatherhead, and Croydon.”
Conservative ward councillor James King has also submitted comments, saying that the need for the new crematorium has not been sufficiently demonstrated, and also raising other concerns including nature conservation, the loss of recreational space, and extra traffic.
Reports filed by the council in support of the application say that crematoria are often on greenfield sites because the law requires 200 yards’ distance between the crematorium and the nearest home (unless the owner consents), and 50 yards’ distance from the nearest road.
The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities has published guidance that says that quietness and seclusion are key points when choosing locations, and that new crematoria are likely to be built in countryside settings close to an urban fringe.
The council will run the new crematorium itself. Discussions at the commercial ventures executive sub-committee under the heading “Project Baseball” have mainly been behind closed doors, because of commercial sensitivity, and so the expected rate of return and initial capital outlay are not known.
A council report from December did say that the council has a reserve of £650,000 for feasibility costs on the project.
The council ran a consultation last year ahead of drawing up the application.
Following feedback, changes were made including reducing the site boundary to leave more space for recreation, improving footpath routes, and changing the building layout and materials to soften appearance.
Separately, an e-petition set up by residents in December called on the council to abandon the scheme and look for an alternative option.
The 624 signatures heralded the possibility of a full council debate, but this was rejected because the planning process already has public consultation built into it, and the possible conflict of interest for planning committee members if there were a debate.
A date for the planning committee hasn’t yet been published, but the application is due to be decided by 27 April.
Images supplied by Reigate & Banstead Borough Council