A £4.5M plan by a local authority to improve a cemetery should be abandoned and efforts focused on creating a new cemetery elsewhere, it has been claimed.

Councillor Nigel Boddy said while Darlington Borough Council’s West Cemetery scheme to replace cremators, build a new separate chapel to increase capacity from 65 to 120 mourners, and create a 66-space car park had been approved shortly before lockdown, the pause in the scheme caused by pandemic had presented an opportunity for a rethink.

Elected members approved the proposal to transform the Carmel Road North site after attempting to find solutions to residents’ concerns over flooding and screening.

Councillors voted for the scheme to go ahead after hearing sensitivities around having a crematorium and a separate chapel had been recognised by the authority following concerns it could impact on the dignity of the dead, but it was considered the best fit considering the constraints on the site.

After reports of council workers starting to undertake exploratory work at the site, Cllr Boddy questioned whether the authority or the Environment Agency should be conducting such investigations on its own scheme.

He said: “People living nearby, especially in Pond Field Close, are plagued by groundwater under their floorboards. Everyone would be happier if it was the Environment Agency looking into the issue rather than the applicant.”

Cllr Boddy, who has argued for the council to develop a southern cemetery, between the A66 and Hurworth, added the authority had no remit to develop a chapel and there were sufficient chapels in the Carmel Road North area already.

He said: “I don’t believe the authority has the power to build places of worship.”

In response, the council’s cabinet member for local services, Councillor Andy Keir, said the authority’s workers were looking at flood prevention measures at the site, as had been agreed at the planning meeting.

He said: “There was a plan in place before the pandemic and the plans are still the same. The worked is delayed rather than postponed.”

Regarding the claims about the council building the chapel, Cllr Keir said there needed to be provision on the site for people “to go and pay their last respects”.

He added: “This work will bring the cemetery into the modern age. Cllr Boddy had his opportunity to raise his views at the planning stage and it was approved. That train has gone, it has left the station.”