Newtownabbey Borough Council is under fire after hundreds of people signed a petition to block a planned cemetery beside the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
Signatories have branded the proposed 18-acre cemetery, which will be located within Valley Park, beside the hospice, as heartless.
Newtownabbey Borough Council, which is bringing forward the plans, said space at the existing Carnmoney Cemetery is so tight that it will not be able to accommodate burials within 18 months, leaving space at only two, more rural, cemeteries in the borough.
A spokeswoman for the council stressed that less than one-third of land at Valley Park would be used for a cemetery.
However, Derek McCabrey, who started the online petition, said any such development would be “brutally insensitive” to patients and families attending the Children’s Hospice.
“The plans appear to be more advanced than anyone in the council will admit,” the 53-year-old Newtownabbey grandfather claimed.
He added: “It is even more repugnant... as it would deprive these unfortunate people (the hospice’s patients) of Valley Park, that is used by patients and their relatives on a regular basis.”
Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice is staying tight-lipped until the proposals reach a more advanced stage. Dame Judith Hill, chief executive of Northern Ireland Hospice, called for other potential sites to be explored.
“The council representatives were informed that current proposals for a new cemetery are likely to have a considerable impact on the integrity of the services available at Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice,” she said.
Newtownabbey Borough Council has said it will consult with key stakeholders — including residents and those who use Valley Park — if the plans progress. The council spokeswoman said attempts to secure alternative sites over recent years have failed.
She added: “If the proposal to develop a cemetery proceeds, the council will relocate the existing play area in the Valley Park and has committed to building a new play and multi-use games area.”
However, opposition to the plans is gathering.
Deena Nimick’s six-year-old daughter died in the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.
She said: “During the last few months of her life, visits there (to the hospice) enabled us to build some very special memories.
“Creating a super cemetery landscape outside a children’s hospice is heartless.
“Shame on Newtownabbey Borough Council for even considering this as a viable option.”
Another issue is the removal of a children’s play area to make way for the graveyard.
The council has said it will relocate it elsewhere, but residents are also unhappy with that proposal.
The Children’s Hospice is a state-of-the art facility which offers care and respite care for young people with life-limiting illnesses.
There are more than 750 life-limited children and young people living in Northern Ireland.