The living should not be sacrificed to bury the dead at Waikumete Cemetery says Forest & Bird.
The environmental group has spoken out against an Auckland Council proposal to bulldoze parts of a protected ecological area to create rooms for more graves.
The unitary plan proposes the removal of protection for 50 per cent of the significant ecological areas in the cemetery which are home to gumlands containing native orchids and lizards.
Waikumete Cemetery is the largest cemetery in New Zealand and it's expected to reach capacity by 2018 if not sooner.
Forest & Bird's North Island conservation manager Mark Bellingham says land for a new lawn cemetery should be located on the outskirts of north-west Auckland.
"Let's not sacrifice the last of the natural areas. This is one of the rarest resources in an urban area.
"The urgency has to be in funding for a new site and these decisions should have been made 10 years ago."
As well as the impact on the ecological population the loss of land could cause, Mr Bellingham says the land is also very steep for graves making it difficult for the older population to visit.
Auckland Council's principal policy analyst for open space Richard Mann says if land is not made available for more graves, the cemetery will reach capacity by 2018.
"An additional 40 years could be added until the cemetery reaches capacity. We can't forget the land has the intended purpose of being used as a cemetery."
He says out of the 40 hectares of protected vegetation, 22ha of the high quality vegetation will remain protected while 18ha of lower quality vegetation will be made available for further burial.
"The former Waitakere City Council assessed the vegetation and identified the highest quality. Some of the area in the SEA contains things such as wattle and is causing more problems to the ecological environment."
Extending the life of the cemetery to 2060 will allow council to plan for acquisition of new land, he says.
"We generally want to encourage cremation as a more effective means," Mr Mann says.
Friends of Waikumete deputy chair Barbara Lady Harvey says it's important Waikumete Memorial Park has areas for people to enjoy for recreational purposes.
"We would like to see it continue as a burial place but not at the sacrifice of ecological and recreational areas.
"We would be entirely opposed to the loss of recreation for more graves if that's what it meant."
Submissions on the issue of SEA's can be made to the Reserve Management Plan before February next year or to the Unitary Plan by mid 2014.
Visit aucklandcouncil.govt. nz to make a submission.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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