Crematorium plans approved, but confusion over legislation holding up progress

The City of Belfast Crematorium at Roselawn Cemetery opened in 1961. It is still the only crematorium in Northern Ireland. Pic by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker.
The City of Belfast Crematorium at Roselawn Cemetery opened in 1961. It is still the only crematorium in Northern Ireland. Pic by Arthur Allison, Pacemaker.

Despite the approval of plans for several other crematoria in Northern Ireland, Roselawn remains the Province’s only such facility.

In recent years planning permission has been granted for crematorium proposals in Moira, Newtownabbey and Omagh, but so far none of the projects have come to fruition.

One major hold-up is the existing legislation, which precludes private sector companies from operating crematoria here – something that is commonplace in the rest of the UK.

There is also confusion over whether the current rules permit any local authority, other than Belfast City Council, to operate a crematorium.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council spent around £200,000 developing its plans for a crematorium at Ballyearl, just a few hundred yards from its Mossley Mill headquarters.

The £5 million facility was to be developed and run through a public-private partnership.

In May 2016 the local authority said it was close to concluding its search for a private sector partner to build and operate the new facility and was hopeful that it would be operational within a year.

However, those plans were scuppered when it was discovered that a private sector firm wouldn’t be permitted to operate the facility. And any hopes of getting the legislation updated ended when the Assembly collapsed in January 2017.

In August last year the council revealed that it was “in discussions with Belfast City Council regarding options for collaboration” in a bid to progress the long-awaited project.

It has stressed that the money already spent – much of it used for design, planning and legal costs – won’t be wasted as it intends to proceed with the project.

The Department for Communities insists that 1985 legislation permits any council to “provide and maintain a crematorium”. However, Antrim and Newtownabbey Council insists it was advised to the contrary and has said it is still “seeking clarity” on the matter.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council has outline planning permission for a crematorium and ancillary services at a council-owned site at Doagh Road, Newtownabbey.

“It had initially been proposed to deliver this scheme as a public-private partnership. However, the Department for Communities advised the council that there was no legislation in place for the regulation of private sector or council-run crematoria, other than Roselawn, which is provided and maintained by Belfast City Council. The council will continue to seek clarity on this matter.

“The council is also exploring the option of entering into a collaborative arrangement with Belfast City Council in relation to the proposed crematorium.”

Three other Northern Ireland councils are working on a joint plan for a crematorium to serve the “wider western region” of the Province.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Mid Ulster District Council confirmed that they have “procured a consultant team to prepare an outline business case with regard to jointly developing a single crematorium facility at a suitable location within the three council areas”.

“Cogent Management Consulting LLP have been tasked with preparing the Outline Business Case and work is currently progressing in adherence to the terms of reference which includes a review of the legislative requirements should the project progress,” the spokesperson said.

A full report on the matter is to be brought before the relevant committee of each council in due course.

Responding to claims that there is confusion surrounding the current legislation, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “Article 17(8) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (NI) Order 1985 makes it an offence for anyone other than a council to conduct a cremation. A change to allow anyone other than a council i.e., a private company, to conduct a cremation will require a change in legislation and an incoming Minister.

“The department is aware of the plans being made by councils to develop crematoria in their areas. It is a matter for those councils to ensure that they operate within the legislative provisions when entering into any arrangements.

“The department continues to review the situation.”

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