INNOVATIVE plans to open a cafe inside a cemetery have been unanimously backed by councillors.
Hartlepool Borough Council will transform the Stranton Cemetery Lodge building, within the Tanfield Road-based cemetery, into a new cafe.
The cafe – which could be open by August – will help safeguard four jobs at the adjacent nursery site and also create four part-time positions.
Councillors sitting on the planning committee met yesterday to agree the plans, which will see the building change from offices into a cafe.
The application was unanimously agreed despite concerns over the “restrictive” opening hours.
The cafe will be open from 8.30am to 4.30pm from Monday to Saturday and from 8.30am to noon on Sundays and bank holidays.
Labour councillor Marjorie James said: “I still do not understand the opening hours.
“I think they are restrictive and may be a detriment to the cafe sustaining itself in time.”
Coun James wanted to see longer opening hours during the summer months.
Chris Pipe, the council’s planning services manager, said the hours could be varied in the future and said the authority wanted to test how the cafe operates before opening for longer.
Concern about the potential impact on nearby residents if the cafe opened for longer was also raised.
Conservative group leader Ray Wells, who welcomed the scheme, added: “The opening hours, especially the half day on Sundays, are restrictive.
“I think the department should reconsider that.”
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Wells said the opening times showed a “lack of business” experience within the council.
Meanwhile, independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “This is a positive step.
“It will be well used by the public and generate money for the council.”
As part of the plans, a car park will be built at the north of the site.
Along with parking bays in Tanfield Road there will be about 50 car parking spaces for visitors to the cemetery, cafe and nursery site.
The work will include making structural alterations and extensions to the building.
A small extension will provide a kitchen and a covered patio area, which would be built using materials to match the existing building with no alterations to the first floor.
The new cafe will be based on the ground floor of the building, which is on the draft Local List for Hartlepool and identified as a heritage asset.
Friends of Stranton Cemetery Group, which aims to raise awareness of the site, help ensure it remains a peaceful environment and reduce crime, have previously welcomed the plans.
There were two letters of objection over concerns about traffic congestion.
Councillors also approved the regularisation of Stranton Nursery after it emerged it has been operating without formal planning consent.
Officers say the garden centre has been in operation for a minimum of 10 years and that it has an “established lawful use” and therefore the right to continue without the threat of enforcement action.