Plans to build a cemetery in the Valley Park which have been branded as “short-sighted” by one Newtownabbey councillor, are being progressed to the next stage.
At Monday night’s Policy and Governance Committee meeting (June 18) councillors were asked to approve the appointment of consultants, at a cost of £90,000, to produce designs for the O’Neill Road cemetery plan.
The council has been considering a range of options and locations for a new facility because of the rapidly dwindling number of burial spaces at Carnmoney Cemetery.
Councillors were presented with a map detailing the proposed 18-acre site the new cemetery would take up in the Valley Park, which is just over 65 acres in size.
Alderman John Blair said: “I am fundamentally opposed to this plan and have publicly pledged to prevent any loss of meaningful and open recreational space. This map showing where the cemetery will go represents the entirety of the open space at the Valley Park as the rest of the park is largely inaccessible and overgrown woodland.
“At Carnmoney, while there is only two years left of provision for graves, there is more than 10 years left across the borough.
“My main objection to this plan is that we should wait until the merger with Antrim and then draw up an arrangement.
“To me this proposal is ad hoc and short-sighted and I would urge a rethink.”
He added: “Our problem has been and remains people from Belfast using our cemeteries because the City Council is so much more expensive.
“It seems a strange decision to build a bigger cemetery closer to the city and at the entrance to the borough.
“Our rural facilities are no further out for Newtownabbey residents in terms of distance than Carnmoney is from Belfast.
“And once this land is taken up for the cemetery it will be easy to see where it will expand to in the future and we will have no park to speak of.”
Councillor Robert Hill added: “This issue has been debated for as long as I can remember and it has been talked to death. It is just time we do something.”
The majority of councillors backed the proposal to appoint the consultants. A recorded vote was taken with 18 councillors backing the proposal, alderman John Blair and councillor Tom Campbell voting against it, and councillor Lynn Frazer abstaining.
Ms Frazer argued that the council should join up the cemetery plans with proposals for the new crematorium at Ballyearl.
Council Chief Executive Jacqui Dixon said advancing the proposal, which is still in its early stages, would result in around 4,600 plots and 22 years of burial provision.
Councillor Billy Webb asked if there could be an assurance made that the rest of the remaining 47 acres of the park not included in the cemetery plan would be converted into usable parkland and remain as public space.
“That would be the intention of the consultants to draw up designs for the rest of the land,” the Chief Executive replied.