Residents called for their ‘green belt to be saved’ as they were invited to see first-hand some of the plans for a new cemetery between Blackburn and Oswaldtwistle.

More than 50 people turned out at an ‘open platform for residents’ event to look at plans the Memorial Garden and Cemetery, off Blackburn Road, being proposed by the billionaire Blackburn Issa brothers.

The event took place at the Hampton by Hilton Hotel.

The new development, which is being revisited following concerns in 2021, is being proposed by the Issa Foundation.

People spoke directly with planners and members of the Issa Foundation over their feelings to build on the farmland.

Some of the common questions posed during the evening revolved around traffic issues and the number of weekly burials, and the loss of green space.

The foundation was also keen to dispel some of the myths surrounding Muslim burials, such as the size of plots and duration of services.

The foundation also relayed information about the number of burials in comparison to busier plots such as that at Pleasington.

People were able to see plans and also speak about any concerns relating to the environment.

The plans have been significantly reduced to 13,500 burial plots across 18.5 hectares.

The foundation said the scaling down from the previous proposal aims to ‘ensure a balance between serving community needs and preserving the character of the area’.

The Issa Foundation is the charitable group set up in 2016 by the family of EG Group founders Mohsin and Zuber Issa.

Lancashire Telegraph: People met with planners and experts at the open forum

Lancashire Telegraph:

Residents spoke openly and honestly over their feelings about the cemetery, which would be used for burials of people of all religions and none.

Angela Simpson lives in Duke Street, Oswaldtwistle. She said: “We don’t need a new cemetery.

“I look at Blackburn and Darwen and they have 53 square miles and it is not all built on.

"Hyndburn has got 28 square miles, so why build another cemetery in Hyndburn when there is plenty of land in the Blackburn and Darwen borough.”

She questioned the proposal for the cemetery to be ‘multi-race’ and asked about a crematorium.

“I have spoken to other people and we don’t want it," she added.

“What harm is it doing to leave it as it is? I would like to leave it as a green space.”

The Issa Foundation said in information leaflets handed out on the day: "The scheme has been designed to fit in with and enhance the existing green belt' and 'the vision includes enhancing biodiversity and encouraging wildlife in the area, with planting and sympathetic landscaping.'

Janet Mather was one of the residents who had helped to raise awareness of the concerns raised when the first set of proposals were revealed.

She said: “The size has changed but nothing else has.”

People were keen to stress their concerns were based on maintaining the green space and managing traffic issues, more than anything else.

Janet felt residents were concerned over further changes to the plans once submitted and also on the number of funerals a week.

“They have put on that it is disused farmland but it is not – there are animals grazing on it now.

“Why if there is going to be a certain number of funerals a week are there 351 car parking spaces? We have a massive issue with the traffic now.”

Hyndburn Council’s Executive board meeting had been due to take place at 7pm but was delayed so councillors could attend the open forum event.

A number of local councillors attended alongside residents.

St. Oswald’s ward's Councillor Zak Khan said the project may cause to ‘divisions’.

He said: “I think it is wrong to impose something on people who have already had things imposed on them before.

“Frontier Park went up – the units there – causing people anxiety and upset, and meant people had to move out of a beautiful area.

“Now, imposing something on them is causing community division. I am from a mixed heritage and I see things from a broad point of view.

“What is happening is that it is causing community division and it is not necessary.

“This is not about size, and it is a project that can be done elsewhere and causes less division.

"It is going to cause a massive backlash and the whole of the local area will rise up against it.

“People just want to it to stay as it is.”

One resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “We just want to save our green belt.”

Another couple, who live close by, said they also wished for ‘no development’ as the section of land which separates Blackburn and Oswaldtwistle.

Lancashire Telegraph:

The cemetery has been downscaled and would not encroach upon residential properties, unlike the previous proposal and will straddle Blackburn Road, the application claims.

On announcing the new plans, the foundation said it was ‘keen to hear the views of local residents and other individuals or organisations who are keen to provide constructive feedback on the proposed scheme’.

Lancashire Telegraph:

The initial plans for a Muslim cemetery were unveiled in November 2021 and covered the whole section of land - 84 acres and aimed to accommodate 35,000 plots.

Later, the foundation clarified the cemetery would be open to people of ‘all faiths and backgrounds’.

In July 2022, the plans were withdrawn following concerns from local residents who were upset at the prospect of losing all of the green space.

The new downscaled plans aim to address a number of concerns raised following the previous application.

This includes environmental sensitivity, capacity and specialist reports which will explore ‘areas of contamination, pollution, drainage, biodiversity, ecology, traffic, and highway safety’.

The cemetery is inspired by the Gardens of Peace in Ilford, which is designed very much like a public park.

On announcing the plans last week, a spokesperson for the Issa Foundation said: ‘’We remain dedicated to creating a Memorial Garden and Cemetery that is not only a dignified final resting place but also a serene sanctuary that enhances the local landscape and is an asset everybody can access.”

Members of the Blackburn Muslim Burial Society (BMBS) were at the consultation and were joined by fellow volunteers from across the region.

A spokesperson said: “It was great to see so many people in attendance and asking important questions.

“We as a burial society, are happy to help any community that are in need of our services.

“It was really good to hear from people and relay the vision the service is offering.

“I did note many of the queries were due to misunderstanding in regards to how things are going to be at the new burial site.

"If the Gardens of Peace in London is anything to go by, I can assure you that it will be a beautifully landscaped.

“Queries were also posed about traffic issues.

“In our experience the majority of funerals do not have large attendances and the burial itself is over very fast.

"Volunteers and marshals are always on hand to ensure people park with consideration for other road users.

“Along with that, there are a limited number of funerals per week and the rest of the time the cemetery remains empty.”

A further resident’s public meeting will be held once and if the plans are submitted, said the acting Hyndburn council leader, Councillor Peter Britcliffe.