Derry & Strabane Council have approved extending the City Cemetery out to Southway to create space for an additional 950 plots ahead of a new cemetery for the cityside being developed.
Councillors were told that without the new extension there may be nowhere to conduct burials on the cityside from 2023 until the new cemetery at Mullenan Road is ready in three to five years time.
The Southway expansion was rubber-stamped by all Councillors on the Planning Committee present on Wednesday afternoon after a recommendation from Planners that they approve the development.
The planning application lodged by Derry City and Strabane District Council itself, also includes an access road extending from the existing road within the City Cemetery.
The site, Councillors were told, sits within a woodland known as Southway Wood. To the north is the existing cemetery and to the east and west are residential properties at Kildrum Gardens and Lone More Gardens.
The Council said all relevant neighbours have been notified while no objections subject to a number of conditions have been raised by consultees.
The Council engaged in a community information exercise among other engagement initiatives back in January 2021 and the feedback from residents was “mainly positive, with some concerns raised over existing problems in the vicinity of the proposed works, such as limited car parking spaces at Lonemoor Gardens, traffic management during the annual church organised Cemetery Sunday service and illegal tipping of rubbish within the wooded areas of Southway”.
Assurances were also sought that the proposed works would not adversely affect the existing ecology within the wooded area. Council reassured residents at the online session that additional parking spaces would be provided along the new access road into the cemetery and the impact of the proposals on the existing ecology would be addressed by council developing and implementing a biodiversity management plan for the wooded area. This plan would also detail how issues such as tree management, fly tipping and antisocial behaviour would be addressed.
One objection to the proposal was lodged which Planners said were given due consideration.
SDLP Colr. Jason Barr asked whether these new 950 plots would be single burial plots or if double plots can be purchased, and how many burials could be accommodated on each plot. The Planning officer said each plot is proposed for one, two or three burials with a maximum 2,850 burials on site, although more surveys on the site are to be carried out before burials commence to see how many burials exactly can be contained.
Conor Canning, Head of Environment, said that since 2014 graves cannot be purchased because of limited capacity.
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey asked if the cemetery could be extended further south along the bottom of the existing boundary but was told this land is too steep to develop.
SDLP Colr. Angela Dobbins asked why was this happening in a wooded area when (as reported by the Journal on Tuesday) a new cemetery has been detailed in the media this week.
Colr. Dobbins was told however that the new cemetery on Mullenan Road will take between 3-5 years to complete.
Mr Canning said: “For the year just ended we had 211 new graves open in the City Cemetery. That leaves us 208 at this point in time. So in effect we have a year in terms of burials remaining within the existing site. It is very much the case that if we don’t develop this extension we won’t have anywhere for burials in the cityside for up to 3-5 years,” Mr Canning said.
Mr Canning also highlighted that to facilitate the expansion of the city cemetery, whereby the removal of trees within the site cannot be avoided, Council proposes a separate area of council owned land, approximately 1.5km to the southwest on Letterkenny Road, be planted with native species trees.
Sinn Féin Colr. Patricia Logue raised safety concerns over a separate plan, which was approved several years ago, for a new City Cemetery access road at the bottom of Southway as part of a previous extension to the current cemetery (not part of this application).
Colr. Logue said that like residents, she was very concerned about the accumulative impact of even more traffic passing through this area when the new roadway is built.
Even though planning permission has already been given for the new road, Colr. Logue said, she still wanted to urge Council to undertake more work in terms of the road safety concerns of residents and users using that site, i.e. pedestrians and motorists. “I think it would be negligent of Council if we did not address this matter. I cannot stress that enough. We need to be getting this right.”
Colr. Logue said the extension was needed but that this matter needed addressed with a proper, detailed assessment.
Mr Canning said further discussions on this matter of the separate, proposed roadway development will happen and he was happy to facilitate that.
SDLP Colr. John Boyle said Council do not necessarily have to progress with the previous application for the Southway road despite it being approved some years ago. “You don’t necessarily need to build it,” he said.
He said with regards to the application for the new cemetery extension, he understood the immediacy and proposed the recommendation for the new extension be endorsed, and all Committee members voted to approve.
The Planners’ report meanwhile states that open views over the city and river will not be impeded by the proposed development.
Protected species including bats roosting in the Southway Wood ‘appear to be located at sufficient distance to be protected from any disturbance arising from the proposed works’, while protection zones to be provided around the badger setts have been deemed adequate to minimise impacts of the proposal on this protected species.
The proposal involves the loss of approximately 0.62Ha of broadleaf woodland plantation habitat. The trees within the woodland are not subject to a Tree Preservation Order. NIEA NED advised that the removal of trees will result in the loss of biodiversity value and an assessment has shown that Red Squirrels are present in the area. Additionally, the trees provide habitat for breeding birds; birds are protected under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 (as amended).
NIEA NED therefore require the retention of boundary vegetation to act as a commuting corridor for wildlife and compensatory planting to be composed of native species.
To facilitate the expansion of the city cemetery, the removal of trees within the site cannot be avoided, the Planners report states. It adds however that in the interests of biodiversity however boundary vegetation retention and compensatory planting is proposed. In respect of that compensatory planting for the loss of habitat on the application site, Council proposes a separate area of council owned land on Letterkenny Road, be planted with native species trees. NIEA NED is content with this as compensatory planting.