Newtownabbey Council has been granted outline planning permission for a multi-million pound crematorium development at Ballyearl.
Despite opposition from householders in the surrounding area, the local authority is pushing ahead with the plan, which could see a crematorium built on council-owned land at Doagh Road, opposite Ballyearl Arts and Leisure Centre.
The crematorium, likely to cost more than £5million, could be constructed and run by a private firm as part of a public-private partnership.
At Monday night’s Planning Committee meeting, members were informed that Planning Service has recommended approval of the outline application for the scheme - the first step towards securing full planning permission.
A report presented to the meeting revealed that there were 74 letters of objection and one petition opposing the application, which also covers ancillary development such as the creation of a garden of remembrance at the site.
Looking on from the public gallery were a handful of local residents who are vehemently opposed to the council’s plans.
Speaking after the meeting, the disappointed residents voiced concerns about increased traffic problems, potential pollution and the impact on people’s health. They also fear the development could lead to a drop in property prices and destroy the local community.
With plans already approved for crematoria in Moira and Omagh, in addition to the existing facility at Roselawn in Belfast, the residents claim there is no need to build another one in Newtownabbey.
“Surely Moira is going to relieve the workload at Roselawn so therefore there isn’t the necessity for another crematorium so close to Belfast; it just doesn’t make sense,” said Robin Kayes from Mossley.
“When they (councillors) were talking about this at first, surely they knew about the amalgamation with Antrim. For all we know there could be prime sites in Antrim that the council hasn’t even considered. Have they selected the best site or just the easiest site?”
Convinced that a crematorium development would have a seriously negative impact on local property prices, Mr Kayes added: “I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to the value of the property that I own. It’s the only investment that I have and I’m going to be stuck with it and not be able to do anything with it.”
Kelly McDonald from Ballyearl and Ruby Woodside from Doagh Road stressed that local residents don’t want to live beside a crematorium and will continue to fight the plans.
They have urged the council to rethink its plans and look at alternative sites for the crematorium - something it is unlikely to do at this stage.
The campaigners are being supported by Antrim and Newtownabbey DUP Cllr Stephen Ross, and have also received the backing of South Antrim MP William McCrea and Paul Girvan MLA, who have both raised concerns about the plan with council management.
Crucially however, the vast majority of local councillors are behind the Ballyearl project.
Cllr Ross, who has raised the issue at Antrim and Newtownabbey District Council’s Community Planning & Regeneration Committee, says he and the campaigners are determined to lobby individual councillors in a bid to get them to change their minds.
“We will work on them one by one,” he told the Times. “They need to get out and talk to their constituents to know exactly what is going on, especially about such a major issue that is going to effect their lives.”
Vowing to continue opposing the council’s plan, Cllr Ross added: “The majority of residents in Ballyearl don’t want it, but the council just seems quite happy to force it through. We have no option but to keep fighting.”