A MULTI-million pound scheme to expand a 50-year-old crematorium currently operating at five times its original rate has been approved by councillors.
Durham Crematorium, on the city’s South Road, is to get new cremators, an electricity substation and a bigger car park, as part of a scheme previously said to be worth £2.3m.
The changes were approved by Durham County Council’s central and east planning committee meeting in Easington on Tuesday.
The project was prompted by a change in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 meaning mercury must be removed from crematorium emissions by January 2012.
The work will be done in two phases, with the new features, including the cremators, built first to allow the crematorium to remain open during the switchover.
Once the new cremators are working, the old ones will be removed, to make way for extra storage and office space.
The extension will be single storey, made of similar materials to the existing building.
Since the crematorium opened in August 1960, nearly 100,000 cremations have been conducted. The facility currently handles about 2,100 a year.
This has put ‘unforeseen pressure’ on parking, councillors heard, so the number of spaces available will be increased from 42 to 77. Disabled bays, coach spaces and an electric vehicle charging point will be added.
Planning officer Allan Simpson told councillors the crematorium sat in a ‘beautiful, tranquil setting overlooking open countryside’.
The 61-hectare site was in Durham City’s protected greenbelt but planning policies allowed for cemetery-related development and the scheme would have no adverse impact on the greenbelt, he added.
In his report to councillors, Mr Simpson wrote: "The manner in which this task has been approached is both logistically effective and architecturally sensitive, providing the accommodation required yet being visually respectful of an important Durham building and its tranquil setting."
Councillor Maria Plews, chair of the crematorium committee, said not complying with mercury abatement legislation brought severe financial penalties.
"We have competition, for example from Shildon, so there’s no way we can stop while this building work’s going on," she said.
Approval for the scheme was seconded by Coun Geraldine Bleasdale and agreed unanimously.