Modelling data for planning inquiry

Using our products, data and expertise to provide evidence

Was a crematorium needed?

Horsham council asked us to provide evidence on the need for a crematorium in their borough.

A local funeral director had applied to develop one but the council planning committee had turned down the application. The funeral director appealed and there was a planning inquiry. The council asked Beacon Dodsworth to investigate the quantitative need for the new development. We built a model, submitted written evidence, and gave evidence in person at the inquiry.

The report had to give enough information about how we used our datasets to enable the other two parties in the inquiry to duplicate our results. One party was the developer, the Appellant, appealing against the council’s refusal of planning permission. The second party was a residents group who were submitting their own evidence. All parties are bound by the same procedural rules and their evidence can be cross-examined.

Horsham District Council logo


Within the catchment area of the proposed crematorium, what percentage of the mourners of the deceased have convenient access to an existing crematorium? This was the most important question we had to answer. Previous inquiries have defined convenient access as within 30 minutes’ drive of the deceased’s home at funeral cortege speeds. To answer this question we needed these datasets (we used government Open Data for as many datasets as we could):


  • A road network
    • We used Ordnance Survey Open Meridian 2 road network.
  • A set of driving speeds for the links in the road network
    • The driving speeds in rural areas came from our TimeTravel product for HGV. In urban areas the speed was set to 20 mph.


  • A set of polygons containing population data
    • The polygons used were the boundaries of the Output Areas (OA) from the 2011 census. This is the smallest geography that census data is published at. We couldn’t use the actual number of deaths in each polygon as the average population in an OA is only around 270, so the amount of random variation is far too great. We had to build a model of the data.
  • A model of the probable number of deaths in each polygon
    • We combined age and sex data from the 2011 census with rate of death for a number of age and sex breaks to build a modelled figure for predicted deaths in each OA. This figure was further refined using a correction factor for each local authority. The correction factor adds social class to the model as local authorities with a prosperous population have a lower death rate than you would expect from the age and sex breakdown of their population. The model produced was all Open Data sourced from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
  • The location of the proposed crematorium
    • Part of the planning application.
  • The locations of the existing crematoria in the area
    • Locations taken from the Cremation Society of Great Britain’s website.


Combining these six datasets produced this table of results. It shows that a funeral cortege from the deceased’s home can reach an existing crematorium within thirty minutes in over 99% of cases. For the remainder, the maximum time is thirty six minutes. This makes it hard to argue for a new crematorium on the grounds that it is inconvenient for a significant number of mourners to travel to an existing crematorium


Drive time to the nearest other crematorium (mins) Estimated number of deaths Percentage of the estimated number of deaths
10 or Under 2,590 43.57%
11 to 20 1,566 26.34%
21 to 30 1,733 29.16%
31 to 36 56 0.93%
Total 5,945 100.00%


The map shows the data in this table and the surrounding area. Three different colours have been used to represent the three different drive time bands. A thick black line has been used to represent the boundary of those output areas within thirty minutes’ drive time of the proposed crematorium.

Cremation Society data provided the number of cremations at each crematorium. Using our model to predict the number of cremations gave results that were on average within 16% of the actual figure. This indicated that the assumptions in the model were reasonable.


Map displays drive times to existing crematoria

Future proofing

As well as the current need, it was necessary to consider how need would change over the next twenty years. Apart from the spike in deaths caused by the 1918 flu epidemic, the greatest number of deaths in the UK occurred in 1979. The number for 2013 is about 12% lower. This seems strange as population is increasing and so is the average age of the population. But it is explained by the increase in longevity and the consequent fall in the rate of mortality at all ages. The ONS does not predict that the rate of increase in longevity will change.

The annual number of cremations for the local crematoria on the Cremation Society’s website showed a similar percentage fall to the national death statistics. It was hard to argue that there was, or was going to be, a shortage of capacity at local crematoria.

The Appellant used a flat speed of 20 MPH across all urban and rural roads to calculate the catchment area of the crematoria. This seemed far too low on fast rural roads from our personal experience of travelling in funeral corteges as a mourner. Using 20 MPH speeds to predict the number of cremations at the local crematoria gave estimates far below the actual figure.


The result

The inspector’s decision has been published.
Quantitative and qualitative need are material considerations in his decision.

  • He found no convincing evidence of a shortage of capacity at existing crematoria
  • He accepted our choice of 20 MPH cortege speeds in urban areas and HGV speeds in rural areas, and thought the resulting catchments were reasonable
  • He found that our approach to modelling was realistic and that there was no evidence of significant unmet need in the area

Taking a number of other factors into account, his decision was to dismiss the appeal and not to make the council pay the the Appellant’s costs.

It’s important to note that the techniques and processes used to produce this evidence are applicable to most other types of planning inquiry. Whether it’s for a new retail centre, GP surgery, sports centre or crematorium.

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