IT was 18 months ago when an ‘interested party’ revealed it wanted to buy the council-owned Bretby Crematorium and from then on the authority was ‘duty bound’ to find other bidders thus securing,what it said was the best value for residents.
Councillor Richard Grosvenor and chief executive Andy O’Brien stick by the claim and have now revealed that Midland Co-op, as the preferred bidder, wants to buy the Geary Lane site for £8 million, to be the company’s first crematorium.
Worried residents and protestors, as well as opposition party councillors, have stressed the importance of not selling the site to a private company believing it would eliminate competition and increase prices.
Locals who have the ashes of family and friends scattered in the grounds or a tree planted in their memory said there is nothing stopping a private company from ruining the grounds or building on it in the future.
In an open discussion, both men said that through a contract which the company must sign, it would be required to protect the land and the trees, leaving them untouched.
Mr O’Brien said: “Because of the price, their investment, and as well as keeping the crematorium the same, we found the Co-op to be the preferred option.
“If we find they don’t keep to this we would take legal action.
“The Co-op couldn’t raise prices for other funeral directors to attract more business for them as it is against the law. The directors wouldn’t use their crematorium, so it would not be financially viable.
“They have to tread carefully as this is their first ever crematorium. It is in their interest that they treat everyone fairly.” On top of the £8 million, Midland Co-op has agreed to spend a further £250,000 on investment into the site, including new air conditioning and heating as well as repairs to the roof.
When asked if the same stipulation of protection of the grounds would remain if the company sold the site on, Councillor Grosvenor said: “They are in this for the long haul and don’t intend to sell this off, but are in continuing negotiations.” Both men were also questioned over price increase worries.
The chief executive said: “We are in negotiations with the company to try to control the prices. They will try to tag their increase to an average of all the crematoriums in a 30-mile radius. Bretby is the average and will remain the average. If utility costs change then prices would increase.” He added that Midland Co-op was an ethical company and had enhanced the ‘deal’ by pledging to invest a further £250,000.
The £8 million, Councillor Grosvenor admitted, could be ploughed back into the community on projects such as Derby Road, Robins Cinema and Bargates where cash is currently not available. The latter, as well as the crematorium, was referred to as not being on the council’s manifesto—attracting much criticism from Labour members, leading Mr Grosvenor to say: “If decisions come to be made, we have to address this. Agreeing to buy Bargates was not in our manifesto. Does that mean we shouldn’t have bought it? “We have responsibility as politicians that we can’t say ‘forget the interest’. We have to look at the best interests of the residents.
“We were faced with a difficult decision but we have to consider the bigger picture.” Residents have also blasted the council for holding important meetings regarding the sale in private and not consulting locals. Councillor Grosvenor said this was done in fairness to the bidders.
“It was commercially sensitive. If we had held the negotiations in the open, other bidders would hear about the proposals and overbid the whole time.We needed fairness.
“We have consulted with members of the public with personal interest in the site, as well as the clergy and funeral directors, many of whom have no problem with the sale.” The borough council’s joint owner, South Derbyshire District Council, will discuss the sale at its next finance and management committee meeting on March 17.
Councillor Grosvenor, as the member elected to make the decision, said he will be consulting with East Staffordshire councillors, before both councils come together.
When asked what would happen if the majority of councillors opted out of the sale, both men said: “Then we won’t sell.”