Swaffham funeral parlour bid delayed

A CONTROVERSIAL bid to open a funeral directors in the centre of Swaffham has been delayed while councillors clarify whether the scheme is within planning laws.

A CONTROVERSIAL bid to open a funeral directors in the centre of Swaffham has been delayed while councillors clarify whether the scheme is within planning laws.

The Fairways Partnership's plan to convert a former shop in the Shambles area of Market Place, between the Market Cross Restaurant and Assembly Rooms, was met with dismay from local businesses and their customers.

More than 130 letters of objection were lodged with planners about the potential impact which arriving hearses and coffins could have on trade and the appeal of the town's bustling economic centre.

Breckland Council's development control committee was due to decide on Monday on the company's application to make alterations to the 18th-century Grade II listed building.

But despite the level of local opposition, they were told they could not allow any opinions on the proposed use of the building to affect their decision.

Principal planning officer Nick Moys said the council's lawyers had advised that a funeral business was rated with the same classification as a retail business - meaning no 'change of use' application was required.

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And that meant councillors could only decide whether the proposed alterations in the 'listed building' application were appropriate to the building, and not whether the funeral parlour was appropriate to its surroundings.

Committee members agreed to defer their decision after district councillor and Swaffham mayor Ian Sherwood said he had been given conflicting legal advice which suggested the proposed change of use could be contested.

'I have also taken legal opinion on this and, based on the information I was supplied, this can be challenged,' he said.

'The value of the historical environment and its contribution to our economic life cannot be ignored. Planning has a role in creating sustainable places, and Swaffham has gone through a huge consultation in recent years looking at the market place in particular. My interpretation of the law is that this does require a change of use application.'

Councillors will discuss the application again after further legal enquiries into whether a 'change of use' is required.

The planned renovations include removing an old canopy from the frontage, replacing doors and windows and re-arranging stud-wall partitions inside to create a reception area, viewing room, holding room and toilets.

Committee chairman Elizabeth Gould said: 'This listed building consent will not stop this company opening up tomorrow - it will just stop them improving the building.'

Planning officers said the alterations were relatively minor and the plans did not indicate any preparation of bodies would be performed on site, with the applicant insisting coffins would be taken through the back service door.

Among the other objectors to the plan were Robert Young, a former head of Hamond's High School, who said: 'Our objection is with the location of the undertakers and the nature of the service. In Swaffham, the system for dealing with the dead has always been one of dignity, discretion and privacy. This will not be the case with this plan.'