Natural burials means bylaw needs changes

Palmerston North's "six-feet-under" Cemeteries and Crematorium Bylaw needs to be re-written before a natural burial ground can be set up in the city.

The council put $75,000 in this year's budget to set up a natural burial cemetery after members of the public requested it in submissions on the long term plan.

But the bylaw currently requires all graves to be at least 1.6 metres deep, which would not work for a natural burial.

Proposed changes to the bylaw, that will be discussed by the council's community wellbeing committee on Tuesday, would require graves no deeper than one metre, with a minimum 40cm cover.

The shallow graves would allow for more rapid decomposition of the body and return of nutrients to the earth.

Council assets officer Brian Way said there was no requirement under the Burial and Cremations Act for people to be buried six feet under, but the provision was included in the current bylaw.

No decisions have been made yet about where the natural burial cemetery would be established, although several options, including an area at the Kelvin Grove Cemetery, are being considered.

"But we need to change the bylaw to allow it, and to make some rules about it."

There would be no permanent headstones or memorials allowed, only a small, simple wooden memorial to mark the grave. Bouquets of flowers would be welcome, but without the wrapping paper, and no grave ornaments that were not biodegradable would be allowed.

Another change to the bylaw would allow a tree or shrub to be planted on the graves - a practice not permitted in a traditional cemetery, but valued by natural burial proponents.

The process of changing the bylaw could take about six months.

If the council wants to go ahead, it will have to consult the public.

A submissions period from the beginning of next month and running until the middle of December has been proposed. It would then be February before submissions could be heard, with the council likely to deliberate and make decisions in April.

Mr Way said another process would be necessary if a site outside Kelvin Grove Cemetery was selected, because the land would have to be designated as a cemetery.

Work could begin on setting up a site, with carparking, fencing, and some pathways, but nobody could be buried at an undesignated site.

Manawatu Standard