Heat from a crematorium will be used to warm a leisure centre and swimming pool in Worcestershire in a controversial green scheme expected to be approved tonight.
The Abbey Stadium leisure centre in Redditch will use waste heat from neighbouring Redditch Crematorium to conserve energy and costs. But the proposal, the first of its kind in the UK, has divided opinion and been described as "sick", "eerie" and "insensitive".
The Conservative council leader, Carole Gandy, said she expects the proposal will be passed by councillors this evening after its executive committee unanimously recommended going ahead with the project last week. "It has all-party support," she said. "We estimate this method will provide 42 per cent of heat for the leisure centre, saving an estimated £15,000 a year. The use of waste heat energy is good practice and very innovative."
Unison called on Redditch council yesterday to reverse its likely decision. Roger McKenzie, a regional secretary for Unison West Midlands, who has described the heating method as "an insult to local residents", said: "It's never too late for the council to reconsider its proposals. The big issue that hasn't been considered is the very sensitive issue of consent: the council needs to explain how they are going to take into account the wishes of families who do not want their cremation to be used in the proposed fashion. Consent hasn't even entered the public debate."
Mr McKenzie previously called on the council to apologise for its "insulting and insensitive proposals". He said: "It shows the Conservatives know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Local authorities are increasingly pursuing desperate policies in a reaction to unprecedented spending cuts imposed from Whitehall."
Redditch Borough Council is building the new swimming pool, expected to open in May next year, and under the scheme would save a one-off £100,000 expense to buy heating equipment for the new pool. The council is upgrading the crematorium's equipment to reduce mercury emissions, as required by EUlegislation. Heat from the crematorium would be lost into the atmosphere if not captured. Funeral director Simon Thomas, of Thomas Brothers funeral directors in Redditch, said he thought the proposals were "eerie" when he first heard them. But he believes the plan has the support of more than 85 per cent of people living locally.
"People will get used to it, and I don't think it's a bad idea at all," he said. "We had a funeral service for my aunt last Friday, and I thought that she would like the idea that people were able to have fun as a consequence: the heat might as well be used rather than wasted. I don't think any of the controversy would have occurred if the heat was being used to warm the crematorium chapel and offices; it's simply that this is one extreme to the other: from bereavement to enjoyment."
Warwick District Council already uses waste heat from the abatement process to warm its chapel and crematoria buildings. But proposals to use heat from the furnace of Thornhill crematorium in Cardiff to warm its chapel were described as disrespectful and inappropriate last week by local councillor for Rhiwbina, Jayne Cowan.
Shlomo Dowen, national co-ordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network, said: "It does seem sensible that if cremations are to go ahead that the heat should be harnessed. I don't think this will put anyone off either cremation or swimming, but I can understand people's discomfort with the proposals."