Saturday, 21 July 2018

New crematorium in Northcliffe Park? Over my dead body...

I've had the privilege of witnessing plenty of dodgy Council decisions during my fifteen years as a Green Party councillor for Shipley, but Labour's utterly daft proposal to build a new crematorium in Northcliffe Park is an absolute corker.

To be fair, our senior Labour councillors are considering the park as one of five possible locations for the two new crematoria that they have decided need to be built, but the fact that they are willing to contemplate the option of building on any part of the park in the first place for this reason - including the creation of a new access road - speaks volumes for their judgement.

Let's be clear. This is never going to happen. And the reason is simple.

The Indenture which handed trusteeship over the land to the Council in 1921 - open beside me on my desk - makes it refreshingly clear that it would be illegal to build a crematorium in Northcliffe Park. It states that "the lands and woodlands conveyed...shall be used at all times hereafter solely and entirely as an open space for the recreation and benefit of the public and for no other purpose whatever...".

It's an open and shut case, Watson. None of the land can be built on in this way, ever, and cremating the deceased does not fall into the category of recreation as far as I am concerned.

Martin Love and I (the two Shipley Green councillors) attended the meeting of the Regulatory and Appeals Committee last Thursday afternoon. The committee members were meeting in their capacity as trustees of the park to decide how to proceed in response to Labour's amazing proposals.

They had two main options: either (a) kick Labour's genius suggestion into touch; or (b) agree to seek permission from the Charities Commission to evaluate the proposal further - a step deemed essential by all concerned in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (heaven forbid).

Martin and I each spoke to the committee (our thanks to the Chair, Cllr David Warburton) and emphasised our very strong objections to the idea. We highlighted the extent to which proceeding any further would simply be at odds with the charitable objectives entrusted to the trustees.

In the event, the committee managed to locate a third option! Never under-estimate the dexterity of politicians caught in the spotlight. Rather than either abandoning the idea completely or pursuing it further via the Charities Commission, the councillors hit the ball back over the net to the officers. Specifically, they asked the Bereavement Service to provide them with additional information about the possible benefits of the scheme and (I think, though I am not entirely sure) to consult with the public as well to gauge opinion in the local community.

One lone councillor - Cllr Mike Pollard from Baildon - voted against. Mike argued strenuously and repeatedly and correctly that the terms of the Indenture are as clear as night and day, there is no wiggle room, it is black and white, done and dusted, copper-bottomed, nailed on and lashed to the decking. He firmly stated his view that the Council should not entertain Labour's genius plans for one moment longer.

Now, it is fair to say that Mike Pollard  - a Conservative councillor - and I do not exactly see eye to eye on every issue that crosses our path! But, on this occasion, I wholeheartedly applaud his clarity, insight and wisdom.

So, as Martin and I did several weeks ago when Labour's bonkers idea first surfaced, we call on the Labour Exec to waste no further officer and public time and remove Northcliffe Park as an option for a new crematorium. Unless the Council intends to cremate people in the open air for free as a form of public recreation, I really don't see how a new crematorium is permissible under the strict terms of the Indenture.

And, in the meantime, we'll campaign to block any proposal for a crematorium in our park, no matter how slim the possibility is that this will actually happen in our lifetimes.

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