Home For the record For the Record: Proposals for Whiston Woods

For the Record: Proposals for Whiston Woods

by Lisa Bennett


The consultation into the expansion of Knowsley Cemetery closed on 4 August 2023. The feedback is now being collated and will be shared in due course.

In the meantime, a number of further queries have been received and as such additional information been added to this article below.

The plans are available here.

What is Whiston Woods?

Whiston Woods is an area of woodland located on Cumber Lane in Whiston.  The whole site is 20.14 hectares (49.8 acres).  The site itself falls within the boundary of St Helens Borough Council.

Whiston Woods is accessible via two entrances on Cumber Lane and features a network of formal and informal pathways.  Whiston Woods is open to the public to freely access at all times.

Who owns and manages Whiston Woods?

The Forestry England (formerly the Forestry Commission) currently owns and manages the site.

What is the Council proposing for Whiston Woods?

The Council is proposing to purchase Whiston Woods from Forestry England and would then use approximately 4.4 hectares of the site (i.e. less than a quarter) as an extension to the current Knowsley Cemetery.

The remainder of the Whiston Woods site would be kept for use as community woodland.  The Council would invest in extensive improvements to the existing network of pathways, seating areas, and wider landscape habitats.

The whole site would remain freely accessible to the public.

The current Fox’s Bank Cemetery (next to Whiston Woods) is nearing full capacity – based on the average number of burials, it is expected to be full within the next three years.  As a result, additional land is required to provide enough future burial spaces to allow local residents to be able to lay their loved ones to rest in the coming years.

It is anticipated that the Cemetery extension will include a mix of traditional burial plots and alternative options, such as woodland burials and the scattering of cremated remains. The proposals do not include a crematorium. It is hoped that this will create capacity for approximately 100 years with 10,000 plots available, along with access improvements and parking facilities.

The plans also include working with local residents and Knowsley Cemetery users to achieve Green Flag status for the site and put in place management arrangements to achieve other designations, such Local Wildlife Site status.

Will these plans result in the public being no longer able to access the site?

No.  The whole site will remain accessible to the public and will indeed benefit from significant improvements.

Does the Council own the land which it hopes to use?

No.  Knowsley Council does not currently own the land but has reached an initial agreement with Forestry England and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs to purchase the land, subject to planning permission being achieved and the site only being used for the proposed purpose.

How much would it cost the council to purchase Whiston Woods and expand the cemetery? 

At Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Meeting on 13 July 2022 (a public meeting that is published on the Council’s website), £2.692m was budgeted for the Whiston Woods cemetery expansion.  This would include land purchase and the investment required to establish the required infrastructure on the full Whiston Woods site.  Of this amount, £750,000 was allocated for land purchase including associated legal fees, etc.

The scheme would be funded by Council funding, amounting to £1.350m, with a further £1.342m to be allocated from capital receipts expected to arise in future from the Council’s previously approved Housing and Commercial Land Disposal Strategies.

What decisions have been made about the expansion of the Cemetery?

At a public meeting in July 2022 (see below), Knowsley Council’s Cabinet approved proposals to acquire the land to extend Knowsley Cemetery, subject to planning approval.  The Council has not yet finalised the purchase.

Other than agreeing to develop plans for this site, no other decisions have yet been made.

Has the Council informed people about these decisions/plans?

Yes – the agreement to develop plans for a Cemetery extension in this location was made at a Cabinet meeting in July 2022. This was a public meeting.  The papers for the meeting were published in advance and the decision was documented formally on the Council’s website.

In addition, the Council also proactively publicised this decision on Knowsley News and shared the decision with the local media who published details of the proposal at that time.

What consultation has taken place about these proposals?

The proposals are currently being shared as part of a full public consultation exercise and the findings from this consultation will help to inform any future plans and any future planning application.

If and when a planning application is submitted, St Helens Council will publicise and consult on it as part of their own legal process.

Who would make a decision on any planning application?

St Helens Council is the local planning authority for the Whiston Woods site and will ultimately take the decision on whether to approve any planning application.  As with any planning application, they will also carry out a public consultation ahead of any planning application being considered.  This will be publicised at www.sthelens.gov.uk.

What conversations have taken place between Knowsley Council and St Helens Council about the proposals?

An initial meeting has been held between Knowsley Council officers and Planning service officers at St Helens Council.  This was simply to inform St Helens Council of that Knowsley Council may be intending to bring forward a planning application at a future point.

Has Knowsley Council considered alternative sites for an extension of the Cemetery?

Yes, a number of sites were considered before developing the proposals for the Whiston Woods site. These were:-

  • Whiston – The Westview and Tushingham areas of Stadt Moers Park
  • Halewood – Halewood Park and Halewood Doorstep Green
  • Kirkby – Millbrook Park Millennium Green, Kirkby Brook, and the Eddie McArdle Playing Fields
  • Stockbridge Village – Pool Hey Playing Fields
  • Huyton – Bowring Park
  • Knowsley Village – The Sanctuary Woodland.

Each of these sites was deemed to be unsuitable for a number of reasons, including insufficient space, unsuitable land quality, and being located too close to residential properties.  The expansion of the current site is the preferred option given its proximity to the existing Cemetery and the ground conditions being suitable for this use.

Why was the land next to the current cemetery not considered when developing these latest proposals?

At the time these proposals were developed, the land adjacent to the current cemetery had already been designated as part of the Halsnead Garden Village development.

Had this land previously been considered for expansion of the cemetery?

Yes. When the Local Plan was approved in 2016 all of the land – including and surrounding the cemetery – was allocated to be part of Halsnead Garden Village. The detail of how this land would be used was considered as part of the development of the subsequent Halsnead Garden Village Supplementary Planning Document.

In preparing this document and masterplan, the Council identified a parcel of land adjacent to the cemetery which could be used for expansion. This was approved in 2017 – following consultation – planning permission was granted the following year and this land incorporated into the cemetery. It is part of the cemetery site today.

Was the land next to the current cemetery ever previously designated as cemetery expansion land?

No. In the original planning application for the cemetery in 1994, a plan showed the proposed site for the cemetery and highlighted surrounding land as potential land for future phases of development.

Planning permission was only given for the initial phase of the cemetery. The permission specifically excluded the land in the application that had been suggested for potential expansion.

The adjacent land retained its designation as greenbelt up until Knowsley’s latest Local Plan (adopted in 2016) when it was included as part of the proposed Halsnead Garden Village.

Why is Whiston Woods the preferred site?

A number of criteria were considered and Whiston Woods was deemed the most suitable location because:-

  • It is suitable for family plots;
  • The land would accommodate burials and support a wider cemetery offer;
  • It is set away from residential and business properties;
  • It provides a suitable setting for burials;
  • It is not overlooked;
  • It is easily accessible from the local highway network;
  • It is close to the current Knowsley Cemetery offer which supports local residents visiting their loved ones in more than one location; and,
  • Having an extension close to the existing Cemetery would mean that there would be no need to incur the costs of operating and maintaining a completely separate site.

Would these proposals result in the removal of any public open space?

No.  The proposals would not limit free public access to the Whiston Woods site and would instead result in significant improvements.

In addition to the 20.14 hectares of land at Whiston Woods, the local area is also home to a wide range of other open and green spaces for the community to enjoy – including Windy Arbor Playing Fields, Mellors Pond, Stadt Moers Country Park, Whitestone Millennium Green, and Henley Park.

Is it true that Knowsley Council sold land to housing developers which had previously been set aside for a Cemetery extension?

No, the land adjoining the current Knowsley Cemetery site (which is part of Halsnead Garden Village) was never allocated for a Cemetery extension.  All of the current housing development on Halsnead Garden Village is taking place on land which was sold to developers by private owners.

Knowsley Cemetery and the surrounding land was allocated in previous Knowsley Local Plans as green belt.  It retained its designation as green belt up until the adoption of the current Local Plan in 2016, when the existing Cemetery and surrounding land was identified as part of the development site for Halsnead Garden Village.

As a result, the land surrounding the Cemetery now forms part of the development plan for the Garden Village.  The land situated immediately to the south of the current Cemetery is still in the ownership of Knowsley Council and has not been sold to any developer.  At no time has this land ever been formally allocated in planning terms as an extension to the existing Cemetery.

Would any trees be cut down to deliver the Cemetery extension?

The detailed plans are still at an early stage, but it is likely that some trees would need to be felled to create some of the space to provide burials and ensure that people and vehicles attending services could move through the site safely.  If this was considered necessary, the area of the site would be chosen carefully so that only the least mature areas of woodland and habitats were impacted.

Knowsley Council would ensure that any tree loss was compensated by planting two trees for any one tree felled.  The Council would also prepare and initiate a Woodland Management Plan which would ensure that there is a long-term plan to care for the woodland.

Would any wildlife be affected by the proposals?

A full Ecological Assessment of the proposals would be carried out by a suitably qualified Ecologist before any plans for the site were finalised.  In addition, as part of the work to achieve Green Flag status, a Woodland Management Plan would be developed to set out how the biodiversity of the site could be protected and improved.

Any records, sightings or findings by residents would be considered as part of the project and the future development of the site, and surveys carried out by suitably qualified practitioners would be considered through the planning process.

What impact would the plans have on carbon emissions?

Any trees felled as part of the plans would be carefully selected to ensure that only the least mature trees were impacted as these hold less carbon (as such trees and vegetation are much younger).

Knowsley Council would ensure that any tree loss was compensated by planting two trees for any one tree felled.  The Council would also prepare and initiate a Woodland Management Plan which would ensure that there is a long-term plan to care for the woodland.

Over time, this would result in no net increase in CO2 emissions arising from the site.  This work would be carefully monitored by the Council’s Climate Emergency Team so that there is no increase in CO2 as a result of this scheme.

What will happen after the consultation closes?

Once the consultation has ended, the findings will be analysed during August and September 2023 and then will be used to further inform the plans ahead of any planning application being submitted – the Council does not anticipate any planning application being submitted before October 2023.  Any planning application would be submitted to St Helens Council who would then carry out further statutory consultation on the plans prior to it being considered at a St Helens Council Planning Committee.