The owners of a Ribble Valley cemetery which has fallen into a state of disrepair have spoken of their aspirations for the site.

Calderstones Cemetery near Whalley is the focus of debate about its current state and future potential options, including a crematorium.

Remembrance Parks Construction Ltd says it has commissioned radar surveys of the sensitive site.

The firm has also obtained records which have been used to plot internments, and has architect-designed ideas that would not disturb any graves and would present a viable option for the future.

Bosses at the company highlighted their position following concerns for groups including from the Friends of Calderstones and Brockhall Hospital Cemeteries group. The Bishop of Blackburn has been reviewing the site’s religious status recently and held public consultations.

The friends group hopes the bishop will keep the site’s consecrated status. The cemetery has also been discussed at Ribble Valley Council meetings.

Calderstones Cemetery served the former Calderstones Hospital from around 1915 to 2000. Burials and internment of ashes were conducted there over the years for former patients and some staff. The site also includes the resting place for the ‘Booth Hall babies’ – children evacuated to Calderstones Hospital from Manchester’s Booth Hall Hospital in 1939.

In a statement this week, Remembrance Parks Construction Ltd said: “Calderstones Cemetery is a private cemetery. It is the cemetery and grounds of the former Calderstones Hospital mental asylum. The cemetery has been in private ownership since its sale by the NHS in 2000.

“Shortly after the sale, the (then) owner removed most of the headstones from the cemetery, including those of the Booth Hall babies, to facilitate the opening of the cemetery as a cemetery and remembrance park. The remembrance park proved not to be commercially viable, resulting in the cemetery being sold a number of times.

“In 2009, the owner at that time obtained planning permission for a crematorium, thus providing much-needed revenue for the restoration of the cemetery.

“The Friends of Calderstones Cemetery, formed in 2006, almost two decades ago, has openly expressed its objection to having a crematorium in the cemetery, viewing this as unsuitable for the cemetery, despite crematoria being an integral part of cemeteries for over 100 years.

“Restoring the cemetery and buildings will require a considerable investment with ongoing maintenance requiring significant annual revenue. Despite the passage of time, the friends have not identified any funding for either refurbishment or ongoing maintenance, instead focusing on emotive rather than factual claims.

“Having obtained all the statutory burial records and mortuary records, Remembrance Parks Construction has proven that no graves will be disturbed and a sustainable, suitable future for the cemetery can be secured.”

Remembrance Parks Construction added: “Sadly, to a casual visitor, the cemetery looks like an overgrown field. Remembrance Parks Construction, who purchased the site in 2019, have given a commitment to restoring the two buildings there, placing a memorial to those already buried in there, together with interpretation boards and a book of remembrance, ensuring those who are buried there will never be forgotten. Individual memorials to the Booth Hall babies will also be installed.

“Remembrance Parks Construction would like to reassure the community that no human remains will be disturbed, should the proposed crematorium development within Calderstones Cemetery go ahead.

“They would also like to make clear that the headstones previously placed in the cemetery were actually removed two decades ago by a company in no way connected with the current owners.

“Construction of the crematorium has been planned to ensure no graves will be disturbed, with the building, car park and roads being designed around the existing burials.

“Directors are saddened by contrary claims being circulated by individuals and organisations, which Remembrance Parks Construction consider to be false, harmful and defamatory. We are obtaining legal advice on their content and the reputational damage caused to the company.”

The statement added that development of crematoria within cemeteries has taken place in Britain for over 100 years, as can be seen elsewhere in the north-west. Planning permission to build a crematorium within Calderstones Cemetery was first given planning consent in 2009.

In background information, the company said headstones at Calderstones were removed from the site around 2002. Planning permission was originally granted to develop a crematorium in 2009, many years before the current owner had any involvement in the site. Remembrance Park Construction purchased the cemetery with the benefit of planning permission in 2019.

It added: “The area in which the crematorium is proposed to be built has never been used for burials. Remembrance Park Construction has taken the following steps to ensure that existing graves are not disturbed.”

Obtained all of the statutory cemetery records as well as the mortuary records from Calderstones Hospital and plotted them onto a cemetery plan, ensuring all current interments are identified.

Carried out a ground penetrating radar survey to confirm statutory records are correct.

Carried out approved trial excavations.

Engaged an experienced team of architects to develop construction plans to ensure there will be no disturbance to graves during any phase of construction.