BEREAVED families in Cheltenham are facing agonising delays before laying their loved ones to rest due to the installation of new equipment at the town crematorium.
Undertakers say work to bring two new cremators to the Bouncers Lane site means their clients are being forced to wait for two weeks to get an appointment for a cremation.
Martin Cocks, owner of WS Trenhaile funeral directors in Charlton Kings, said the delay – a week more than the normal waiting time – heightened the grief suffered by families at an already difficult time.
He criticised the borough council for carrying out the work in a month when the death rate was near its peak.
He said: "I realise what they are doing at the crematorium is important but I would question whether they should be doing the work at this time of year, which has a particularly high number of deaths.
"It is far quieter during the summer so it would have made much more sense to do it then.
"Our job is to look after our clients and their families and to make sure things are as smooth as possible for them at what can be a very traumatic time.
"But having to wait 14 days undoubtedly makes it more difficult for them."
Joy Mason, partner at Mason and Stokes funeral directors in Hewlett Road, said she had also noticed the delay.
"There has been a slight delay but we understand the work needs to go on to comply with regulations," she said.
"At this time of year there is always a longer delay in any case. It takes some time to get back to normal after the Christmas period and there are more deaths over the winter than at other times of the year."
The council claimed the average delay between death and cremation was 10 days – irrespective of the time of year.
However, funeral directors said they were normally able to secure a cremation appointment in half that time.
Robert Hainsworth, bereavement services manager at the council, said the authority had been in touch with undertakers across the town to let them know about the situation.
He said: "We are having two new cremators installed to replace the outdated cremators we currently have.
"The new cremators will be more energy efficient to reduce the council's carbon footprint and will be up and running by the end of February.
"It is a particularly difficult job as the building is Grade II listed and the contractors have to install the new cremators without changing the structure of the building.
"The staff are working extremely hard to keep the service running to avoid delays."