Exhumation of bodies prompts debate over Chapel proposal

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DESPITE members’ reservations about traffic issues and the digging up of old graves, the green light has been given for 15 flats on the site of a former Chapel in South Ockendon.

The new homes will be built on the Old Chapel on North Road, which has not been used as a church since the Sixties and has had a number of commercial uses since, including being a disco in the early Seventies. Currently it plays host to a building contractor.

The new plan is to clear the site, exhume bodies in the graveyard and then build 12 one bed and three two bed flats in two blocks.

Local councillor Charlie Curtis was the first to raise concerns about access to and from the site onto a busy road, though he was less worried about other members’ fears over the graveyard.

He told the meeting: “This building is very dangerous. It is a very busy road and are we planning to widen this pavement? I think this is absolutely essential”

Officers later explained that the pavement would be widened and Cllr Curtis then played down fears about the graveyard, saying: “I have lived in Ockendon for more than 40 years and I’ve never seen anyone take a bunch of flowers in. It is a builder’s yard. It is absolutely appalling.”

However, a number of councillors, particularly Barry Johnson and Tunde Ojetola were very worried about the bodies on the site and quizzed agent John Newton in detail about how any exhumations would be handled. They were told the exhumations would have to be approved by the Ministry of Justice and that there would be wide consultation to inform anyone with connections to those buried there.

Cllr Ojetola said: “The issue about exhumation is a sensitive one and my main concern is that the applicant is trying to make a profit out of this. The applicant will have three years to build if given permission is given and I am sceptical that there is enough time for this to go to the Ministry of Justice and then contact all the relevant people.”

Cllr Johnson added: “I worry about the exhumation process, It gives me grave concern and I am sorry about the pun.”

As well as conflicting opinions about the graveyard among councillors debating the issue, there were also differences about access issues.

Cllr Johnson said: “The access is a terrible, terrible thing. The fact that we are quite happy to have lorries reversing in worries me. I am also so worried about people living so close to a petrol station. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

However, Cllr Steve Liddiard countered by saying: “Next door there is a petrol station and people go in and out there all the time without any problems so I am not worried about this.”

Summing up, committee chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey said: “This is a contentious application on an old chapel. When we come to exhuming graves and digging up bones it concerns me greatly. I have always believed that when you are buried you are laid to rest, never to be disturbed again.

“I really have a problem with trying to support this application.”
However, his fears were not shared by a majority of members and the application was passed by six votes to three.

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