The owner of a Gloucestershire children’s attraction hopes to open a natural burial site as part of a rescue package after coronavirus ‘wreaked havoc’ on the business.
Chris Turney has put forward ambitious plans to turn the Dick Whittington Farm Park into a major tourist attraction and boost the number of visitors to 80,000 a year.
And one of his business ideas is a plan is to open up a secluded part of the site for natural burials when the play barn and other facilities are closed.
Proposals for the natural graveyard on he outskirts of the farm are contained in one of several planning applications submitted for the Longhope attraction that started out as a farm park.
Applications submitted to the Forest of Dean District Council include those for for an an outdoor wildlife area with paths, an equine centre and proposals to eventually significantly expand his present play barn and visitor centre.
The planning application for the burial site says the centre is anticipating around 25 funerals a year to be held out of view after closing time.
It says the designated area is a perfect location because it is hidden from the public areas by an arboretum which also offers a natural screen for those looking for a peaceful, private service.
If you want a direct line to the day’s biggest Gloucestershire stories, signing up to our daily newsletter is the way to do it – you will get the news that matters to you direct to your inbox, find out more and get started today.
Demand for natural burials is growing and he has already been approached from numerous groups across multiple faiths to hold services which would have fully biodegradable coffins made from materials such as bamboo, wicker or cardboard.
There would be no environmental impact because the grave will be marked with a tree that serves as a memorial spot for the family to visit, says the report.
“Services are proposed to only take place at times when the visitor centre and play barn are not open, to maximise the privacy for the grieving party,” he assures councillors.
Mr Turney has also been given permission to create an infill barn next to the existing visitor centre/play barn but withdrew an application to change the use of an agricultural barn to leisure because it would cost an extra £4,000.
However he has also submitted applications to create a bark menage for an equine centre and pathways for a planned large wildlife area.
His agents, My Design Consultancy, said the original farm park was a blend of indoor and outdoor facilities but when the animals went it became more concentrated on the play barn.
“As a business it was becoming less and less viable,” says the report.
“Covid 19 has wreaked havoc on this business, as it has millions of other business across the country.
“With most of the business offerings being indoors and the limited numbers able to attend due to Covid the business needs to expand into other ventures.
“To do this a series of pathways will be required to make the site accessible to everyone.”
Longhope Parish council has “severe reservations” about the burial area but the Environment Agency say officials do not have any objections as long as steps are taken to protect water courses.
Public rights of way inspector Jeff Wheeler Public calls for councillors to insist Mr Turney diverts Public Footpath DLH61 which is on the route to this part of the Blakemore Farm Park site and the adjacent Swallow Lakes development.
He says: “A footpath is meant solely for walkers, and not horse riders or cyclists, let alone a further increase in vehicular traffic to the attractions at the ‘farm park’ and lodges in the adjacent field at this location.
“A condition needs to be attached to this planning application that the applicant (Mr Turney) needs to finally move forward and divert Public Footpath DLH61.
“The safety of users of the public footpath needs to be more than considered, but needs to be resolved here and now. We have already started discussions with the applicant concerning the installation of a footbridge on the diverted route. I really hope we can now finally get this long overdue footpath diversion completed as a condition under this latest planning application for this site.”
The applications for the menage, pathways and burial ground have yet to be decided.
Mr Turney recently talked about the challenges with Gloucestershire Live and said a lot of staff at are going to be doing farm maintenance work during lockdown.
“The big source of income has now stopped. We’ve got to keep [the staff] working, we’ve still got the farm.” Chris said.
“It’s not good news.”