Saturday, 15 May 2021

Questions over likely income of ashes urns

Questions over likely income of ashes urns

CONCERNS have been raised about the profitability of a new columbarium at Fairmile Cemetery in Henley.

The town council has spent about £90,000 on repairs to convert a disused non-conformist chapel into a space for storing cremation urns.

It will be handed over by contractors Universal Stone early next month and the “niches” will be ready to lease soon afterwards.

The council’s recreation and amenities committee is recommending that the 220 niches be leased for a fixed period of 20 years with the cost being either £1,800 or £1,300 depending on the size. Non-residents will be charged triple.

If the council was to lease out all 220 niches for 25 years it would generate about £11,500 a year.

Mayor Ken Arlett said he didn’t believe the figures showed a good return on the amount of money the council had invested in the project.

He said a smaller niche would earn £54 a year over 25 years, the original lease period, and suggested the period be cut to 20 years.

Councillor Arlett said: “I think we need to show a bit more profit. Until we let all 220 boxes out, we won’t be making that profit.

“It’s only when we let all 220 niches that we start making money because we have still got the overheads year-on-year and they will go up.”

Accountant Liz Jones said she had looked at the proportion of non-residents buried in the cemetery, which had been 25 per cent over the last two or three years, and devised the highest rate.

She said: “I did some calculations and if a quarter of the niches were leased out at three times [the regular amount], it would add £120,000 over the 25 years to the whole thing. It does make quite a difference. That helps the whole payback on the investment we have made.”

Councillor Laurence Plant said: “I still can’t help but feel even at that amount per annum, once fully let, it’s not going to come anywhere near.

“This is why historic buildings are let go to rack and ruin because you can’t afford to maintain them.”

The columbarium can only be accessed by a secure door entry system for which a unique code will be allocated to each family and there will be seating for quiet contemplation.

At the end of the lease period, families will be given the opportunity to have their loved ones’ ashes remain there for a further 20 years.

Councillor Sarah Miller asked what happened to the ashes if no family members were left or contactable at the end of the lease period.

Mrs Jones said the council would endeavour to keep in touch with families, but in the unlikely event they couldn’t, it was allowed to scatter the ashes “respectfully”, perhaps at the end of the cemetery as the whole area was consecrated.

Deputy Mayor David Eggleton suggested asking families as part of the lease agreement that if they couldn’t be contacted in future, would they accept the council scattering the ashes.

The committee agreed to recommend to the full council that niches be leased for 20 years and approved the proposed charges.

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