Burial law changes cause for concern

David Benson-Pope.
David Benson-Pope.
The extent to which proposed changes to the law relating to burial and cremation will affect the Dunedin City Council - at a time when it is under pressure from ratepayers and Central Government to control spending - is a worry, the council says.

The council yesterday gave its retrospective approval for a submission made in December to the Law Commission on its review of burial and cremation laws in New Zealand.

The deadline given for submissions meant the council would not meet before it was due, so the submission was approved at the time by Mayor Dave Cull and committee chairwoman and chairman Crs Jinty MacTavish and David Benson-Pope.

Bringing cemetery land under the Resource Management Act and opening up the sector to independent operators, allowing for burial of relatives on farm land (subject to consent), requiring cemeteries to be maintained to a minimum standard and transferring responsibility for licensing crematoriums from the Government are some of the proposals that have implications for local authorities.

The council's submission supported some of the proposed changes, with appropriate controls, but raised concerns about the opening up of cemetery provision to private operators and the additional responsibilities that would impose on the council.

It said that would result in more cemeteries in a variety of locations, and increase the associated environmental and public health risks.

The council would have to identify acceptable sites for cemeteries, process consents, oversee non-council sites, monitor for environmental and health issues, and ensure proper records were kept.

Councillors approved the submission.

Cr Benson-Pope said he had ''real issues'' with the proposals because they moved in a direction that allowed the private sector to cherry-pick aspects of the cemetery service and leave the council to pick up the expensive facets.

Mr Cull agreed and said he would have thought it should be for communities to set maintenance standards in their own communities, and not the Government.

Cr Lee Vandervis said he could not approve the submission because of the retrospective nature of approval, and asked that a message be sent to the Government and the Law Commission that they were setting unreasonably short time frames for submissions.

He suggested not bothering making submissions at all on those cases, but Mr Cull said that might be precisely what the Government wanted - the ability to say a lack of submissions meant no-one cared.

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