WORK on a huge new cemetery for Southend could start this year, the Echo can reveal.

Southend Council expects to exchange contracts in the next six to eight weeks with the owner of a 23-acre site for the graveyard in fields opposite Morley Nursery, in Southend Road.

The authority has set aside £1.68million for the burial ground in the coming financial year’s budget.

Workmen could move in by the end of 2014.

Andrew Moring, Southend councillor for corporate services, said: “We have been chasing the landowner for the contracts, which we were expecting before Christmas.

“Unfortunately, the solicitors were on holiday for Christmas and NewYear, but we are now back in conversation and hoping we can exchange within the next six to eight weeks.

“We would expect work to start towards the end of this year.”

Most of the green belt land, which is believed to stretch east towards Star Lane and down to Parsons Corner, lies within Southend borough, but a small part is in Rochford district. Southend and Rochford councils would have to grant planning permission for the graveyard.

New top soil would have to be brought in to raise the level of the land, due to its water table.

The county council would have to agree to have this soil brought to the site through roads in Rochford.

Council cemeteries in Leigh and North Road, Southend, have no space for new burials and more people can only be buried in existing family graves. Sutton Road Cemetery, Southend, is expected to be full in eight or nine years.

A new cemetery could take six years to establish as the ground has to be stabilised, infrastructure built and trees and shrubs given time to bed in.

The land is part of a 225-acre site jointly owned by the Robert Leonard Group, which also owns the Esplanade House site on Southend seafront, and Regis, one of the firms behind Thorpe Estate, which holds the freehold for much of the Burges Estate, in Thorpe Bay.