Town's concern over new funeral parlour plan

CONCERN is growing over plans to open a new funeral parlour in the centre of Swaffham, which, it is claimed, could see coffins carried across the pavement into premises close to three catering businesses.

CONCERN is growing over plans to open a new funeral parlour in the centre of Swaffham, which, it is claimed, could see coffins carried across the pavement into premises close to three catering businesses.

The Manchester-based Fairways Partnership has applied for Listed Building consent to make alterations to a former bridal wear shop at Market Place, Swaffham, where it wants to open a funeral parlour.

The issue was discussed at Wednesday's meeting of Swaffham Town Council and, after hearing of objections from local traders and residents, councillors agreed to take up the matter further with the Breckland Council planning officers with a view to getting it brought before the authority's development control committee and also to take the matter up with South-West Norfolk MP, Elizabeth Truss.

About 50 letters, objecting to the plans, have been sent to the council's planning department.

Because a funeral directors business is classified as retail the proposals for the premises do not need change of use or planning permission.

The company behind the plans has been quick to allay public fears, insisting that it has no plans to use the shop's front entrance to convey coffins and it hoped the public would be respectful of its use of the back area of the shop for its hearses.

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'We are unaware of people's concerns but more than happy to meet with local people,' said the spokesman.

People are asked to call 07841 452631 to make known their concerns.

A growing number of traders in the town feel strongly that the premises, at one time run as traditional tobacconists, are not suitable because it is between a restaurant and the Assembly Rooms, where wedding receptions and other social functions are staged. There is also a Chinese takeaway shop nearby.

Kay Wells, proprietor of the Market Cross cafe bar, said the terms and conditions of her lease restrict her from commenting on the plans.

Trader and town councillor, Carol Baker, said that traders and some residents are 'absolutely horrified' at what is being proposed and feels it will be detrimental to the retail centre of Swaffham.

'This shop is just not suitable for a funeral director's business because of where it is situated and the problems there could be for access and exit for vehicles used in the business.

'I haven't heard of one person who is in favour of this plan, it is entirely the wrong position. There is no-man's land area at the back of the premises and a large public car park at the front. Will we be seeing coffins being carried across the pavement into the building as people are sitting outside the Market Cross cafe having their tea and coffee?' said Mrs Baker.

She stressed she was speaking as a trader in the town and not as a town councillor.

Mrs Baker said that the area, known as The Shambles, at the rear of the proposed funeral parlour, is always full up with vehicles and hearses parked there could become blocked in.

'If this plan goes ahead, I can't see how hearses will always have room to move in and out of the congested area at the back of the shop, so they will have no option but to use the front area and may even use some of the public car parking spaces on the market place opposite,' she said.

Mrs Baker, who runs Pedlar's Gold gift and cards shop, said that it is not just traders who have concerns but also residents, and many of them are to voice their views in letters to Breckland Council's planning authority.

David Wickerson, a town councillor said his personal view was that having a funeral parlour there was the 'wrong thing in the wrong place'.

Trader Kim Starling, owner of the nearby Starlings, greengrocer and florists, said she felt it was entirely inappropriate for a funeral parlour to be located between a restaurant and the town's Assembly Rooms.

In the design and access statement within the Listed Building consent application, it states there is no designated car parking associated with the property. It also says existing front and rear access, directly off the market place and The Shambles, is to be retained.

Full details of the plans for the proposed alterations of the shop are available by visiting the planning applications site within Breckland Council's website

The public have until July 22 to make their views known to the planning authority at Breckland Council.