Hadleigh Town Council urged to rethink controversial cemetery extension plans amid growing financial concerns
Opposition councillors have urged a serious rethink of contentious cemetery expansion plans in Hadleigh, amid growing fears they are being mishandled financially, detracting from the town’s other priorities.
An open letter has been written ahead of a town council meeting tonight, which raises concerns about a £500,000 loan taken out for the extension, stating the annual interest repayments will leave “a debt to be repaid by future generations”.
Co-signed by councillors Andrew Knock, Rickaby Shearly-Sanders, Carol Schleip and Angela Wiltshere, the letter also questions the scope of the project, arguing a 10-year plan would be more realistic than the current 40-year vision.
It calls for a professional adviser to be appointed, and a detailed feasibility report to be produced, claiming the current proposals will leave no money for other projects, including much-needed renovations at the Layham Road sports grounds.
“We are in favour of an appropriate extension of the cemetery, provided that it can be justified,” the letter reads.
“Our concern is that the council appears intent on developing a flagship cemetery at the expense of all other critical projects, when a more modest council scheme should allow other priority projects to proceed in a timely manner.”
Proposals to extend the cemetery date back to 2013, with planning permission granted in 2015, but no work has taken place amid ongoing arguments around its financial ability, as well as the handling of the tender process to appoint contractors for the project.
The dispute represents the continued unrest at Hadleigh Town Council, following a public referendum in June, in which voters called on all members to resign.
The poll’s result was not legally binding and most councillors have remained in their post.
Cllr Shearly-Sanders, one of the letter’s signatories, told the Free Press that he feels many councillors are rushing the cemetery extension due to the impending local elections in May, when he believes a large number of them will lose their seats or stand down.
“Some of us feel this is a continued dysfunction,” he said. “Some of us feel things won’t get sorted out until there’s a new council.
“In my view, the project should be paused for a proper review and a public consultation.
“We’ve never had feasibility studies or financial statements. There have not been proper reports, and a lot of people in Hadleigh don’t know what’s going on.
“For a project that’s been going for six or seven years, that’s quite astounding. I’m a councillor, and I don’t even know how much is being spent.”
Cllr Wiltshere, who also signed the letter, added that she believes in-fighting at the council has worsened since last summer’s referendum.
“It’s very hard to get things heard or listened to,” she said. “It’s just a lot of bickering, arguing and rowing.
“The cemetery expansion really throws up all the problems. The process has seemed chaotic, inappropriate and not very open to scrutiny.
“It’s our understanding that the whole process should have been much more open.”
In response, town mayor Peter Matthews said the extension had been agreed years ago, and claimed all four councillors who signed the letter had been part of the decision.
“The fact that they have constantly voted against the proposal does not make it go away,” Cllr Matthews said. “We live in a democracy, and the majority vote at any council in the country is the prevailing vote and, therefore, the decision of the council.
“As for the sports facilities, this is still a work in progress and is not being ignored by this council. We are looking at varied options to progress this, and I might add that all four of them sit on the sports committee and have yet to agree a strategy, a design, or business plan to move forwards with this proposal.”