Undertakers across the Fylde coast today told of the growing anger and distress of grieving families at repeated failures to fix a broken crematorium.
Twelve months ago town hall chiefs pledged Carleton Crematorium would be back up and running “as soon as possible.”
Yet services there are still being hit by long delays as problems highlighted by The Gazette more than a year ago remain unsolved.
Two of its three furnaces have been out of order since late last year with families hit by delays of up to a month.
And despite Coun Graham Cain assuring residents the facility would be back up and running “as soon as possible” in December 2013, only one of the three furnaces is still operational.
Today, undertakers said the ongoing delay is “distressing” and “frustrating” for families - especially at Christmas time.
Jason Dell, from J P Dell Funeral Directors based in Fleetwood, said: “Families obviously aren’t happy.
“People just can’t believe they’ve not completed the work yet. We just think it’s a joke, it’s been going on so long now. It’s frustrating that we can’t just do our job.
“Families are having to go to Preston or Lytham or wait a few weeks, they want it out of the way though.”
Mark Rae, of Mark Rae Funeral Directors in Lytham, said: “It is having an impact on families having to wait. It think it’s terrible really.
“If you try to explain to a family they’re just disgusted, it’s a service to the public. It’s bound to be distressing.”
Steve Nicholls, funeral director at Box Bros Ltd based in Marton, said: “It’s certainly affecting families, they are frustrated by it.
“Most are accepting, but some are upset.”
Claire Hull, from C T Hull Funeral Service in Poulton, said: “Our priority is ensuring our clients have the choice of funeral time, and that they do not have to endure any extra worry at an already emotional time.”
The Gazette reported last December how families were having to waiting two weeks for services at the facility.
And by March this had doubled, to four weeks.
The crematorium, on Stocks Lane, has space for three cremators and capacity to carry out between 40 and 50 services each week.
But the installation of the new third cremator was halted last summer when the company fitting it, Crawford Europe, ceased trading.
Two cremators continued to operate, and Blackpool Council secured a deal with ATI Environment UK Ltd to finish the third cremator.
But then the second cremator at the facility broke down.
Blackpool Council moved to reassure families the work was being carried out promptly, saying in April they expected it to be complete by August.
However, the crematorium was beset with another problem, when the works on the two faulty cremators led engineers to have to carry out additional work to comply with legislation to reduce mercury emissions from the furnace.
Mr Nicholls added: “It’s frustrating it has taken so long and it lets our professional standards down.
“Every time we think it’s resolved, another thing comes up.”
Box Bros Ltd stressed that workers at Carleton Crematorium remained professional and attentive to grieving families, and that bosses felt they were faced with “badly handled” decisions made “by those on high”.
Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for Carleton Crematorium, said: “We are hoping to have all three cremators fully operational early in the New Year.
“Extra work to reduce mercury emissions, in order to comply with the Government legislation, is also under way.
“I appreciate that this work has caused some inconvenience but can assure people that we are working with the contractors to complete it as soon as possible.”
Funeral directors have warned that a year of extra services at Lytham’s crematorium could have a knock-on effect on business at Carleton even when it re-opens, as families see its “immaculate” facilities.
Mr Nicholls, from Box Bros Ltd, added: “The crematorium at Lytham is far nicer, it’s immaculate, the staff are nice and it is a reasonable amount cheaper.
“We’re finding that, in most cases, people are happy to go there and once they’ve been there they will probably go again, that will likely make a difference in the long-run.
“I do think it will start a long-term trend of them losing business to Lytham.”
A service at Lytham costs £550, compared to £625 for a service at Carleton, Mr Nicholls said.
Park Crematorium continues to host around twice as many services each day as it did before the problems arose at Carleton, averaging 10 each day.
But Fylde Council, which runs the facility, has said the number was “manageable” and staff continue to be “diligent” and “work hard” to ensure grieving families are well served.
A spokesman for Fylde Council said: “We are happy to help.
“There has been an increase in people coming in from outside the area but we are pleased to help families at a difficult time. We have a first class facility and people are welcome to go where they choose.”
The crematorium, on Regent Avenue, can conduct up to 14 services a day with two furnaces.