RESIDENTS in Whiston have spoken of their anger over plans to turn part of “the last bit of green space” in the area into a cemetery.

In July last year, Knowsley Council’s cabinet approved plans to acquire land at Whiston Woods on Fox’s Bank Lane from the Forestry Commission as part of its bid to extend the amount of graves in the borough.

The council has allocated more than £2.7m for the purchase and development of the site, which the report states would “create a 100-year burial capacity for Knowsley and provide a continued council burial offer for Knowsley residents.”

The land falls under the greenbelt in the St Helens Local Plan and sits on the border between the two local authorities.  Knowsley Council has said it will need to gain planning permission before going ahead with the development – at which point, if approve,d the land sale with the Forestry Commission would proceed.

When residents in Whiston learned of the plans, the news left many “outraged” and a community campaign was formed, Save Whiston Woods, in order to oppose it.

Nearly a year later, campaigner Sue Parry said residents have been left “frustrated” over difficulties in accessing any more information about the plans.

'There's so little land left'

She said: “When we heard about the plans last year, local residents didn’t know anything about it.

“We’ve had to rummage around in the council website, gradually getting little bits of information here and there.  We felt that nothing was happening over it and if people knew they’d go mad.

“There’s so little land left in the area now with developments that have been taken place.  It’s tiny and it’s lovely and it’s so sad to think we could lose this for a cemetery.”

Sue said that she started the group in order to raise awareness and has had some support from local Green councillors, but is worried that residents haven’t been consulted about the plans.

She added: “What worries me is if this goes through on the sly in the hopes nobody would notice.  Part of what confuses the situation is that there’s two borough’s involved, and people are concerned who will get consulted when planning permission goes in because it’s right on the border and affects people in St Helens and Knowsley.”

She said: “People are really angry about it and didn’t know anything. There’s signs up and unless you know where look on the website you wouldn’t even know it was going to happen.

“People are worried about it as it is the last tiny bit of green land that people can freely access.  The kids are really upset as well, there are children up there all the time looking at all the wildlife, it’s upsetting.

“That’s what keeps me going, I don’t think our kids would forgive us if we don’t fight for it.”

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A spokesperson for Knowsley Council said that plans would be revealed in the “coming weeks” with the council due to start consulting residents soon on the proposals.

The spokesperson said: “The council will soon be launching a consultation exercise to seek the views of local people about the extension of Knowsley Cemetery provision. 

“The Whiston Woods site is larger than 20 hectares and any proposals to extend the existing Knowsley Cemetery into that area would take up much less than half of it – there would continue to be a community woodland.

“The remaining space at Knowsley Cemetery is due to run out in the next three years, so we need to identify additional land so that the residents of Knowsley and neighbouring boroughs have somewhere to rest their loved ones.

“It’s important to note that no plans have yet been shared simply because no detailed plans have yet been drawn up.  Any suggestion that a decision has already been made is false and misleading.”

The council spokesperson also referred to “rumours” about other plans related to the current cemetery.

The spokesperson said: “We are also aware of rumours and allegations that the council has sold land around the current cemetery site to a housing developer and that the potential extension of the cemetery would result in the loss of all of the trees in Whiston Woods – both of these are completely untrue.

“Indeed, we are hoping that any plans will include improvements to habitats in the Whiston Woods site.  We are also working up plans to improve public access to the site by upgrading existing pathways, creating new routes, improving the landscaping, and generally making the site more accessible and attractive to users.

“We will be launching our consultation in the coming weeks, and encourage local people to see the plans for themselves before coming to any point of view.”

St Helens Council were also contacted for comment.