MAJOR concerns have been raised over whether the land at a cemetery is suitable to bury people in, with fears coffins could leak into the city’s water.

The Environment Agency (EA) said it has a number of “major concerns” about Worcester Mayor Allah Ditta's application for retrospective planning permission for burial land at Worcester Muslim Cemetery in John Comyn Drive, due to possible water pollution, and has called for alternative locations to be found.

EA says the site, used as a cemetery since 2005, is unsuitable for human burials and doesn't meet its standards for groundwater – and has raised these fears on at least three occasions dating back to 2008. Three letters of concern were sent by the EA highlighting its issues with the site in August 2008, June 2010 and April 2016.

The objection by the EA said: “We do not consider this site to be suitable for the intended use of burial of human corpses. We would like the applicant to consider other more suitable alternative locations for the purposes of human burials where there are no groundwater risks.

“We object to the location of this proposed burial site with a possible high-water table and therefore this application does not meet our minimum groundwater protection requirements.”

Burial sites must be at least 250 metres from any well, borehole or spring supplying water for human consumption or used in food production and at least 30 metres from any spring or flowing body of water not used for human consumption, according to the EA.

The cemetery site would be within 60 metres of Barbourne Brook.

There are also concerns that historical landfill sites at Bilford Road, which sits about 20 metres away, would also be considered a risk because of gas. Holes dug for burials could cause slumps in the ground and gas to leak into the ground and water.

The report said: “We have concerns that burials are already taking place at this site without planning permission and against the advice we previously provided.

“We would only agree to proposals for new or existing developments if the risk to groundwater is acceptable and this appears to be high risk to surface and groundwater.

“We expect operators of cemeteries to take appropriate measures to manage their sites to ensure they do not cause unacceptable discharges which may lead to pollution.

“All cemetery developments and burials must maintain an unsaturated zone below the level of the base of the graves.”

EA said coffins are being sealed with concrete at the cemetery to prevent substances released from the corpses buried below the water table – the level below which the ground is completely saturated with water – seeping into the groundwater.

However, using concrete means there is no way for the substances to escape from the coffins and thus degrade naturally in the soil, so if the caskets did leak in the future, there would be more harmful substances inside.

EA said it would also object to the separate plan to expand the cemetery for the same reasons.

The land which would be part of the large expansion would also be at a greater flood risk.

The application by Cllr Ditta was submitted at the start of September last year and the site has been in use since 2005 without planning permission.

The plan had been earmarked for a decision in December but has been delayed due to the EA’s objection. Worcester City Council said it is currently in discussions with the EA over its objection.

Council planners said the cemetery required the correct planning permission before plans for a 785-plot extension could be submitted.

The council said planning permission was first granted in 1978 and renewed in 1983.

The part of the site which is currently the subject of a retrospective planning application has been in use since 2005.

Councillors first looked at plans to transfer ownership of the land from the city council to the nominated trustees - Worcester Muslim Welfare Association, the Al Madina Islamic Centre and The Jalalabad Association - in September 2010.

The council’s cabinet backed the plans in July 2012 and the council approved the transfer in September 2012.

The expansion plans show how a new pavilion and a peace garden would all be built at the cemetery as well as a new building at its entrance to house a small office, mortuary, toilets and a washing area.

The cemetery would be extended in three phases if the plans were approved.

The first phase would see 172 burial plots built as well as the main building at the cemetery’s entrance and pavilion. The second phase to the north of the site would see a further 388 burial plots built before a third phase of 275 plots are built.

The extension would be built on overgrown scrub land which borders Droitwich Road allotments and Perdiswell golf course.

A spokesman for Worcester City Council said: “Some of the Environment Agency’s comments appear to refer to a different plot of land and we have asked them to consider clarifying their letter.”

Cllr Ditta and the Muslim Welfare Association both told the Worcester News they were unaware of the EA's concerns.