PLANS to build a new chapel at the district’s only crematorium have been passed.

South Gloucestershire Council approved an application for the second chapel at Westerleigh Crematorium, despite the site falling within the Green Belt.

Councillors agreed there were very special circumstances, which allow for building in protected Green Belt land, because the existing chapel had reached capacity.

Stride Treglown, agents for Westerleigh Group which runs the facility, said the original planning permission granted in 1990 had specified an obligation to build a second chapel once cremations reached 2,500 a year.

A report last year said: “The crematorium has now been in operation for some 20 years. In the first six months of 2013 some 1,211 cremations have taken place which would indicate that there is a potential for a total in the region of 2,250.

“Westerleigh are fully aware that the capacity for the first chapel has not yet been reached but having undertaken a review of the present management and capacity of the existing facility feel it is timely to bring forward a second chapel particularly to ensure that the expectations of the bereaved are met in full.”

The existing chapel has a capacity of 90 which the group said was adequate for larger services but funerals with few mourners would be better suited in the second, smaller chapel. Because a second chapel would reduce the pressure on the existing one, service times would be increased from 30 to 45 minutes in line with funeral directors’ wishes.

Included in the plans is a new bereavement suite and catering facilities which will allow wakes to be held on site for the first time.

Council planning officer Olivia Tresise said: “In 1990 planning permission was granted for the construction of a crematorium and associated buildings on nine acres of council-owned land at Westerleigh. The initial application indicated that the crematorium would eventually require to chapels.

“In addition, the existing chapel has a capacity for 90 to be seated which satisfies present cremation demands including offering adequate space where a cremation attracts a large number of mourners.

“However, in contrast to these there are a considerable number of cremations where the number of mourners is relatively low. The provision of a second smaller chapel seating 40 people would satisfy this group of mourners, thus providing a more appropriate experience for the bereaved.”

She added: “In this instance, it is considered that there are very special circumstances to justify the proposed second chapel.”

The plans received widespread support from people who have used the crematorium. Pucklechurch Parish Council did not object to the plans but did raise concerns over increases in traffic.

The application was approved at a meeting of the council’s development control committee on Thursday (July 31) but will still need to be ratified by the Secretary of State as is standard for plans within the Green Belt.