A public consultation into the future of Heathlands Cemetery has been extended following a heated debate between councillors and residents.

An emergency meeting was held on January 3 after some residents felt that the cut-off date for a questionnaire seeking people’s views should be extended into the new year.

Tony Adams, whose father Vernon was buried at the Yateley cemetery in 2008, had campaigned for the extension of the consultation for more than a month.

He said: “It was very unpleasant [at the meeting], but we have definitely got an extension.

“Running the questionnaire through December was a waste of time as residents were occupied with Christmas.

"When the questionnaire first opened, there was a fault on the council’s website linking people to the questionnaire, meaning people were delayed in taking part.”

Heathlands has been subject to controversy since it opened in 1957 as a lawn cemetery, which meant that only a headstone or other memorial at the head of a grave was allowed to commemorate the person buried.

However, over the last two decades many have not complied with the existing rules which have not been imposed by Yateley Town Council.

The council is now seeking views on potential changes to these rules and whether to officially allow items such as plants, wind chimes or wood chippings at graves at the site off Stevens Hill.

'Range of opinions'

The Friends of Heathlands Cemetery was set up in October 2012 to enable community input into the management of the cemetery.

Led by a steering committee of residents including Mr Adams and councillors Chris Barnes and Stuart Bailey, they launched a questionnaire on November 11 last year.

While Mr Adams opposed the original deadline for responses of January 31, the majority were in favour. But the group has now voted for a new closing date of February 14.

The council ran a similar public consultation in 2010, but achieved only 30 responses.

Mr Adams said the previous questionnaire was "badly organised" and obtained a "pitiful response", so was keen to get the message across this time round.

Cllr Barnes said: “From the feedback the council has received over recent years it is clear that there is a range of opinions on the type of cemetery that Yateley should have.

“The Friends of Heathlands Cemetery was set up to canvas local opinion on the future of the cemetery.

“The group has succeeded in their brief of creating an unbiased questionnaire, distributing it to as many people as possible and communicating its existence to as wide an audience as possible.

"The council’s wish is that we have a set of rules for the cemetery that are supported by the majority of interested parties, and would encourage anyone who has not already done so, to let us have their views.”

The council has received around 150 responses so far. The questionnaire was sent to 143 addresses listed on the Heathlands database and circulated to 6,300 homes with the council newsletter.

It is also available to download from the council website or for completion online.

The Friends of Heathlands Cemetery will collate the responses mid-February and make recommendations to the council based on the results.