Council seeks advice as it pushes ahead with crematorium plan

Latest council news.
Latest council news.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to employ the services of a financial expert to help it move forward with plans for a crematorium development at Ballyearl.

The council has already agreed, in principle, to the development of a crematorium on land opposite the theatre and leisure centre on the Doagh Road, under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.

Outline planning consent for the multi-million pound project was granted in February this year.

The local authority is pushing ahead with the controversial development, despite objections from residents living in the vicinity of the site, who have raised concerns about possible pollution, traffic disruption and the potential detrimental impact on local property prices.

At the Community Planning Committee’s monthly meeting on Monday, June 8, members were reminded that law firm A & L Goodbody has already been appointed to advise the council throughout the PPP process. However, as the council has limited experience of procuring facilities or services through PPP arrangements, members were advised that, in light of the substantial sums of money involved and the complexity of the tender process and contractual arrangements, a specialist financial advisor be appointed to assist council officers.

The meeting was told that the fee for such services is likely to be in the region of £50,000 excluding VAT.

“The contract for operating the facility will be at least 25 years and members will appreciate that the contract, if set up correctly, will not only provide a high class service to ratepayers but also has the potential to generate income over that period. The appointment of a financial advisor will ensure that the council’s interests are protected through the procurement process and the contract period,” a report presented to the meeting explained.

The council’s director of community planning and regeneration, Majella McAlister stressed that paying for expert advice was aimed at “ensuring the council gets the best possible financial return from its investment.”

With the council likely to receive an annual rent of around £65,000 from the private sector operator, as well as a proportion of the money earned from cremations, Ms McAlister stressed that the cost of employing experts to see the council through the PPP process would be recouped in the first one or two years of operation of the facility.

Members agreed that tenders be sought for a suitability qualified financial advisor to steer the council through the tender and contractual issues involved in the PPP process.

Subject to the advisor’s appointment, the first stage of the tender process for the design, build and operation of the crematorium is expected to be issued in August this year.

The committee’s decision still has to be ratified when full council meets on June 29.