PLANS have been announced to build a crematorium in the Hampshire countryside.

Bristol-based Westerleigh Group is behind the scheme at Ridge near Romsey.

The company says the new crematorium will “relieve congestion” at nearby Southampton – one of the busiest in the UK.

Managing director of Westerleigh Group Richard Evans said the planned crematorium would serve Romsey along with southern and central parts of the Test Valley and eastern parts of the New Forest.

“People living here do not have a crematorium of their own. They are forced to travel to Basingstoke, Salisbury or Southampton, one of the busiest crematoria in the UK.

“As a result they often face long delays to get a slot for a funeral.

"When they finally get there, they face a conveyor belt experience, which is not the best way to say goodbye to their loved ones.”

He added that around 2,542 funerals are held at Southampton Crematorium each year and building one in Romsey would help ease waiting times for families saying their final farewell to loved ones.

Mr Evans said that Hampshire is one of the poorest served counties in Britain for crematoria facilities.

He added the situation is particularly bad in winter when death rates are higher than average.

“The under-capacity of existing crematoria during this period results in delays of two to three weeks in being able to book a time,” said Mr Evans.

Westerleigh is staging an exhibition on its plans in Romsey next week. The exhibition will be at the Crosfield Hall on Wednesday, August 12 between 2pm and 8pm.

The proposed site at Ridge was used as a gravel pit and is off the A3090 Romsey to Ower road, and the plans include building a car park for up to 77 cars. An environment assessment has been been carried out of the site.

The company has built thirteen 13 crematoriums across Britain and operates a further 20 around the UK.

And Bosses at Westerleigh say the proposed crematorium would be set in woodland and well screened from roads in the area.

They also add that currently the closest crematorium to Romsey is in Southampton and for people living in central parts of the Test Valley it is a 30 minute drive for relatives to attend funerals.

Officials at Westerleigh have already had discussions with officers at Test Valley Council about the proposals and a planning application will be submitted in due course.

Michael Peace from Romsey-based funeral directors A H Cheater said: “We feel the proposed new crematorium at Ridge will be a significant benefit to bereaved families in the Romsey, Totton and New Forest Area.

"The Test Valley area doesn’t currently have a crematorium of its own and bereaved families have to travel to either Southampton, Basingstoke or Salisbury to have a cremation.

"It would certainly reduce travelling time to and from the crematorium and will probably alleviate waiting times during busier periods.”

Romsey’s county councillor Mark Cooper has also welcomed the plans but warned the planning application might have have problems getting approved.

“My subjective view is that there is a local need."At present Romsey residents have to use Southampton Crematorium, which has the misfortune of being very busy, so much so that funeral services run into one another.

"But planning permission wouldn’t be a certainty as Ridge is designated countryside.

"The applicant would have to prove that a countryside location is essential for a crematorium.

"There is no time, for example, at the end of a service to meet relatives and exchange condolences before one is moved on by the next convoy of undertakers’ vehicles,” said Mr Cooper.