Controversial multi-faith burial site idea in the Ribble Valley is resurrected

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Plans are due to be submitted for a “multi-faith” natural burial site located at the “gateway to the Ribble Valley”.

Cemetery Development Services Ltd, on behalf of the Blackburn with Darwen Muslim Cemetery Trust, is in the process of organising public consultations before submitting its plans to Ribble Valley Borough Council.

The application will be for a cemetery in land opposite the award-winning Northcote Manor Hotel.

Blackburn businessman Mr Sabir Esa bought the land from the late local property tycoon Gerald Hitman in 2004.

A senior member of Blackburn Masjide Tauheedul Islam Mosque and a relative of Blackburn Peer Lord Adam Hafejee Patel, Mr Esa donated the 28-acre field to Blackburn with Darwen Muslim Cemetery Trust, a non-profit making, charitable trust, nine years ago.

This was after his original plans to create a “multi-faith” woodland burial ground at the site were thrown out by planning chiefs.

In fact Mr Esa’s original plans, submitted in 2005, prompted one of the largest turnouts in the history of Langho and Billington Parish Council.

Almost 350 angry protesters packed into Langho and Billington Community Hall to protest about the plans.

The joint proprietor of Northcote Manor, Craig Bancroft, was quickly elected spokesman for the opposition after giving a rousing speech attacking the plans as the “most serious threat” his business had ever seen.

“I vehemently oppose any form of burial ground or construction opposite the vista of one of the leading hotels in the country,” Mr Bancroft commented at the time.

He added the proposal had serious implications for the “gateway to the Ribble Valley”, posed “huge” traffic concerns and could jeopardise the jobs of 65 people at the hotel.

Complaints were also made during the parish council meeting about the lack of prior consultation with local residents about the plans.

The parish council objected to the plans on the grounds of increased traffic, the number of extra vehicle journeys likely to be generated by the proposal and the unsuitability of local ground conditions.

However, Justin Smith, managing director of Cemetery Development Services Ltd, said that although this new proposal was for the same site, the whole scheme had been redesigned. He explained that they are looking to review the previous application to form a “natural” burial site in Langho as opposed to the previously applied for “woodland” burial site. “It will be a multi-faith site to cater for all religions,” he added. “Yes it may be predominantly for people from the Muslim community, but that’s because it’s operating as a charity.”

Mr Smith said there would be minimal environmental impact and that the Environment Agency had been consulted and had raised no objections.

“It will be a ‘green’ approach to burial managed by a local charity,” he said.

The “natural” burial site will have no headstones, he explained, it will be grassed over and there will be wildflower areas.

He added that the burial ground would act as a “natural” buffer to any proposed development of that site for uses such as housing.

Mr Smith said that it was also likely that restrictions will be placed on the site by the local highways authority to keep any extra traffic movements to a minimum. One likely condition is that the ground is closed on Eid – the festival in the Muslim calendar.

Langho’s Coun. Paula Dobson said that a formal planning application had not yet been submitted to RVBC and therefore she could not yet comment on the issue. Similarly, Mr Brian Haworth, chairman of Langho and Billington Parish Council, said he was not prepared to comment on the plans until they have been submitted.

Northcote’s Craig Bancroft was unavailable for comment as the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times went to press.