RESIDENTS have vowed to fight until the bitter end to protect the remains of 400 bodies at an old chapel, set to be exhumed as part of a new housing plan.

A plan of action is being drawn up by campaigners who don’t want to see the remains disturbed.

Letters could be drafted to the Ministry of Justice, which has to give permission for exhumation, to show the level of opposition.

There was outrage when Thurrock Council passed plans to build 15 homes on the site of the old South Ockendon United Reformed Church, known as the Cherry Orchard Chapel, in North Road last month.

The decision means the graves on site will have to be exhumed, with the bodies, some dating back 100 years, moved to a new location.

Chris Savill, of the South Ockendon Residents’ Association, said: “I will look to start a petition on this as it simply isn’t right. It is always going to be hallowed ground so to build on it seems improper.

“If it must be done then it has to be done properly, but we don’t want it to get to that point.”

Fellow campaigner Dawn Worrall, 59, of North Road, said: “We have to accept the plans have been approved and move on to the phase.

“Only a great deal of support will show the Ministry of Justice officials what this means to us.

“The site is part of our history and needs to remain so.” Guidelines from the Ministry of Justice state the costs of removing the remains have to be met by the developer.

It also says, under the Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Act 1981, relatives and personal representatives can object to a development if the remains are less than 50-years-old.

Agent John Newton said at the Thurrock Council planning meeting that agreed the plans that all families would be consulted before a final decision was made and any approval to start excavating would have to come from the Ministry.

Ockendon councillor Lynn Carr also hit out at the plans.

She said: “I was gobsmacked when it was approved. We have enough of these houses in the area and it would have been nice, if anything was to be built, to see a community centre.

“To rest in peace should mean exactly that, not we will dig you up in years to come. This is pouring fuel on to the fire.”