The Friends of Littlemoor Park presented a petition signed by almost 3,000 people to a meeting of Bradford Council last night (Tuesday).
The park in Queensbury has been identified as one of two potential sites for a proposed new crematorium in the south of the district to replace the ageing Scholemoor Crematorium.
But the plans have met with a huge backlash – the park was gifted to the people of Queensbury by the Foster Family, and many in the village were outraged that the council would even consider the site to build a new crematorium.
The other potential site is a privately-owned site, the location of which the council has yet to disclose for commercial reasons.
The Authority has previously said it would prefer to build on the private site, but was still considering Littlemore as a possibility.
Protestors were buoyed by news that a park had recently been removed from a shortlist of replacement sites for a crematorium in the North of the district, replacing Nab Wood Crematorium.
Northcliffe Park in Shipley had been included on a shortlist of three sites for the Nab Wood replacement, but was withdrawn late last year due to “potentially insurmountable issues” that would prevent a crematorium from being built there.
At the meeting, Richard Greenwood, chairman of friends of Littlemoor Park told councillors that as well as belonging to the people of Queensbury, the park was a ‘Site of Conservation Importance’ deemed a Priority Habitat Network by the Forestry Commission and a Deciduous Woodland Priority Habitat by Natural England.
He said: “To eliminate this priority habitat would not only be devastating to wildlife. You will not be able to replace this type of network habitat should it be lost, a point that we believe should be high on the agenda of even a desktop feasibility study.
“Changing the use of the site not only flouts the gift deed, it destroys a recognised habitat network and signals a lack of deference to the very family who gifted it, the opinions of the beneficiaries, and the special habitat used and lived in by many rare and rapidly declining species.
“Our petition is still growing at over 3,000. Our aim is to ensure that our community does not lose what we know to be a unique and irreplaceable asset.”
Coun Sarah Ferriby, Environment, Sport and Culture Portfolio Holder on the council, said the petition was “what local democracy is all about” adding: “We will give due consideration to your concerns.
“After a feasibility study Northcliffe was removed from the list of sites, this shows that officers are properly looking at the facts.
“Not a lot of sites in the district are suitable for crematoria use due to legislation about where you can build them.
“The development of two new crematoria is a significant investment, as we have to ensure there are suitable facilities for the future. Nab Wood and Scholemoor can’t be upgraded. That is why Littlemoor remains on the list of possible sites. No site has been decided yet. We haven’t made a decision, but at this time Littlemoor needs to remain on the list.”
Coun Andrew Senior (Cons, Queensbury) said: “The park is not for the council to do what they see fit with. Parks like Littlemoor help take the stress from everyday life. It is one of the few unspoiled areas that should be protected for community use.”
Coun Robert Hargreaves (Cons, Queensbury) said he initially thought park would be a “wonderful place to say final farewells to people we love.”
He added: “But as councillors we are the first level of representation for our communities. Queensbury has made its feelings on this subject very clear. This is the largest petition the council has ever heard. This is a place for families, friends and strangers to play and find peace.”
He said any public consultation into whether the park should be used for a crematorium would be a “waste of money” adding: “It would be seen as ignoring the people of this district.”
The debate was hit with a number of interruptions. Firstly a microphone giving off a loud crackling noise due to an electrical fault delayed the start of the protestors’ speech.
Then while Coun Ferriby was responding to the petition, a number of protestors in the public gallery began heckling her. At one point Lord Mayor Coun Zafar Ali had to warn the protestors that if they continued they would be asked to leave.
The petition will now be heard by the council’s decision making executive at a future meeting.
Later in the meeting it was revealed that the hunt for new crematoria sites had been ongoing for four years, with over 40 sites considered.
Coun Kevin Warnes (Green, Shipley) had protested the inclusion of Northcliffe Park on the list, and at the meeting asked how much considering that park as a possible site had cost the council in terms of officer time and money.
A response from Coun Ferriby said: “The active pursuit of possible locations for replacement crematorium sites has been on-going for over four years.
“Northcliffe Park is one of approximately 40 sites to date that have been considered.
“Officer time devoted to revenue funded feasibility studies is not allocated against projects.
“For officers to itemise every minute of their time broken down by each specific location under consideration would be a hugely time-consuming if not impossible task which would not be conducive to getting the job done as efficiently as possible.”
Plans for the two crematoria are part of a £17 million overhaul of Bereavement services in the district, which will include the refurbishment of Oakworth Crematorium and the extension of a Muslim burial site in Scholemoor Cemetery.