Mr Towner is chairman of Arnos Village, a quoted company which has as its main asset the 45-acre Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bath Road, near the HTV studios in the centre of Bristol. The cemetery has been praised as ranking in importance with London's Highgate Cemetery and is littered with monuments and buildings given Grade II listings by English Heritage.
'Development is inevitable,' said Mr Towner, who with his wife owns 85 per cent of Arnos Village. 'We are talking to the council planners at the moment, so it's a question of when, not if. After all, London is full of buildings standing on the sites of former graveyards.'
The stakes are high. Arnos Village is valued at pounds 1.5m in dealings under the Stock Exchange's Rule 4.2 facility to match bargains. But Mr Towner believes development could make the cemetery site worth pounds 6m gross and pounds 4.5m net to the parent company after costs. That would make the shares, currently 33p, worth 100p.
But Mr Towner has not lodged a planning application and must persuade Bristol City Council to overturn its five-year Local Plan, in which the cemetery is listed as 'an historic site requiring sensitive management, conservation and enhancement'. A council spokesman said: 'Priority will be given to the restoration of Arnos Vale Cemetery.'
There is an active Association for the Preservation of Arnos Vale, and the Victorian Society wants the cemetery to be restored.
Jean Corston, the Labour MP for Bristol East, the constituency containing Arnos Vale, said: 'Many famous Bristolians are buried there, but while the cemetery remains in private hands Mr Towner is calling all the shots. So far as I am aware, there is a stalemate at the moment.'
Mr Towner said: 'Since last year, there has been greater interest evinced in the necessary preservation and restoration of the famous Victorian Arcadian Gardens on the site, with the numerous listed buildings and memorials.
However, despite very many words issued by various concerns professing interest in this worthy cause, no single person or body has made a remotely tangible suggestion of where the necessary cash will appear from.'
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