Residents have staged a protest against plans to build a large funeral ceremony building at the proposed 'Farnham Park Cemetery' in Hale Road, Farnham.
The Ismaili Trust, representing the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, says the burial ground is needed because its existing burial space at Brookwood Cemetery near Woking is at full capacity.
Planning permission for a green burial ground on the site backing on to Grade I-listed Farnham Park next to the Daniele Sicilian restaurant was first approved in 2010.
But the Ismaili Trust now wants to construct a “building of exceptional quality” to “create a special place for families to say goodbye to loved ones”, as well as enough car parking for 180 mourners.
More than 300 people have objected, including Farnham Town Council and Surrey County Council's highways department.
The Ismaili Trust’s planning application for a funeral ceremony building at its proposed 'Farnham Park Cemetery' off Hale Road states “the vast majority of visitors to the site will be travelling from Greater London”.
Local objectors claim this is confirmation most of those being buried and their families are not local residents, and as such the traffic impacts will be huge and the community benefit minimal.
Farnham Town Council has issued a strong objection, claiming the proposed building is in conflict with the Neighbourhood Plan. And last Friday, Surrey County Council’s highways department delivered the heaviest blow yet to the trust’s plans.
Commenting on the application’s potential traffic impact, county officers said the Ismaili Trust had “failed to demonstrate the suitability of the proposed access junction, parking provision and sustainability of the site”, and added “the development could potentially result in significant impacts on an already congested part of the network”.
The site, currently a wildflower meadow between the Daniele Sicilian restaurant, Farnham Park and St John Church in Hale Road, is designated as a woodland burial site and a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace in the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan.
However, the community-led planning blueprint states the burial ground should remain as open countryside and does not include provision for a building.
Although the Ismaili Trust only bought the land in 2020, two previous planning applications for funeral buildings by the site’s previous owners in 2013 and 2014 were withdrawn after Waverley Borough Council indicated they would be refused.
The proposed funeral building would be served by a four metre-wide tarmac road, and have the capacity for 180 people, which objectors fear could generate significant traffic.
Waverley Borough Council has not yet set a committee date to determine the plans.
A group of objectors gathered at the entrance to the proposed burial ground off Hale Road last Wednesday to hand leaflets to those attending a public exhibition of the Ismaili Trust plans at the Daniele restaurant.
One of the objectors, Jeff Hogg, a resident of Oast House Lane, said the building would change the character of the whole site, against its original planning permission for the burial ground and in conflict with the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan "which was democratically voted on and keeps this site as natural open countryside".
Supporting residents, Catherine Powell, county councillor for Farnham North, said: "I'm really, really keen for this area to be kept for its landscape value but also for access. One of the things that was really important in the original access is there would have been access from Farnham Park across to Hale Road.
"Surrey County Council wrote to the applicant, wanting to see this route maintained. The applicant in their response frankly just turned around and said no.
"They're going to fence off the whole site with 6ft-tall fencing all the way around the site, which is the complete opposite of what was originally intended. It was originally intended there would be no real structures at all, now we're talking about a building for 180 people.
"They ticked the box that the building was for local community benefit, and you look at their most recent transport plan and it says almost everyone's coming from London. So it's not a local benefit, and in the era of climate change, having people drive from London to Farnham for burial ceremonies and visiting their loved ones, it's just not sensible.
"It needs to built where the people are being served, and that's not here, not on this site."