THE private firm appointed to run Harlow’s council-owned cemetery and crematorium has pledged to invest £3m into modernising the ageing facility.
New operator Westerleigh officially took over the management of Parndon Wood Cemetery and Crematorium on Friday on a 25-year lease - and it has wasted no time in unveiling plans for a raft of phased improvements designed to ensure the service is "fit for the future".
The proposals – which will be finalised after consultation with residents and local funeral directors – include fitting a new glass roof to the main entrance, building additional car park facilities, creating a new hedged garden to the side of the chapel and extending the crematory to accommodate two new cremators and emissions control equipment.
Westerleigh, which runs crematoriums in Basildon, Hainault and other locations across the UK, also wants to build a floral tribute canopy with widened roadways for funeral cars and revamp the memorial garden with a series of water features.
The service opening hours and customer access will be extended with a longer staff presence on site, while the firm will also be responsible for keeping the area secure and well-maintained.
Westerleigh insists that fees will not be increased this year and plans to offer two cut-price slots each morning at a reduced cost of £450 – £75 lower than the standard fee.
Managing director Richard Evans told the Star: "We are delighted to have this opportunity to use our experience and expertise to make a substantive improvement to the crematorium and cemetery service at Parndon Wood.
"We have successfully overseen similar transfers in the past and know that we will make a big difference to the level of care we can offer to the bereaved families of Harlow."
Tony Hall, Harlow Council’s portfolio holder for the environment, said the part-privatisation deal would secure the long-term future of the facility.
"This is a great deal for Harlow which will bring much needed investment for this important facility," he added.
"It paves the way for a host of major improvements which the council simply cannot afford and illustrates our commitment to protect and improve important Harlow facilities."
But Labour group leader Mark Wilkinson said he feared some residents would eventually be "priced out" of using the service.
"It may not happen in the first few months or even the first year, but fees are certain to rocket eventually," he said.
"This firm isn’t going to pump £3m into the crematorium without expecting to make a substantial profit over the term of its lease.
"I worry that many people living in the town will be priced out of using a service that has always been, and should have remained, council-run."