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Bristol farmer 'exhausted' by city council cemetery expansion plan

The last working farm in a city could be forced to close if plans for a cemetery expansion go ahead.

Catherine Withers' family has farmed at Yew Tree Farm, Bristol, since 1967.

Bristol City Council says it is running out of burial spaces in the city and is applying for planning permission to expand the South Bristol Cemetery on to council-owned lane used by the farm.

Ms Withers said "it will be heart-breaking on every level" if the plans were approved.

A new pond habitat, hedgerows, trees and new roads and pavements to serve the expanded graveyard are all included in the plans to increase biodiversity, but critics say wildlife will be harmed.

Ms Withers also disputed the mitigations, saying councillors "aren't understanding" the impact an expansion will have on the area.

"I totally understand that we need more burial spaces, but [bodies are] being buried in MDF coffins with solvents and embalming fluids," she said.

"The cattle drink from the stream, from Colliter's Brook - how's that going to affect them? There's so much to look at."

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, she said: "I'm absolutely exhausted, I'm spent, I'm done. I don't even know if I can walk on the land once I see the diggers arrive.

"[Yew Tree Farm] has been in my family now for three generations.

"Who can witness that? It's an age-old story — 28 farms 100 years ago, and now there's one farm left and they're still trying to destroy us."

'Generous agreement'

Writing in his blog Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, defended the council's plan for the land.

"In May 2021, council officers met with the farm, providing a generous temporary grazing agreement on the land beyond the scope of the initial expansion set to take place over 10 years, in the knowledge that some of that land would be claimed back for the necessary burial expansion," he wrote.

"The current proposals are to use less than 10 per cent of the land currently used (without tenancy) by Yew Tree Farm.

"The council is presently in direct discussions with Yew Tree Farm on granting a long-term lease for the remaining 90% of grazing land.

"The council has continued to engage the small farm during the application process."

On Wednesday, Bristol City Council's development control B committee voted to defer a decision on granting planning permission for the cemetery expansion.

The application will likely go back to the committee in six weeks with more information, when councillors could refuse permission.

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