Wellington's proposed grave rental programme brings questions and controversy

Wellington City Council is proposing reusable grave sites to ease cemetery overcrowding.

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The scheme would allow plots to be rented for a number of years before remains are dug up and either cremated or moved. Source: 1 NEWS

If approved, the scheme would allow plots to be rented for a limited number of years before remains are dug up and cremated, or moved elsewhere. 

"The option would be for families to own a plot for a temporary period of time after which time the remains would be removed and the plot would be reused," Wellington City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons told 1 NEWS.

Burial space is getting tight in the capital. Karori cemetery, New Zealand's second biggest, is full, and Makara is expected to run out of room in the next 18 years. 

Reusing plots is common in Europe but would be a first here.

"When [people] buy a little bit of real estate in a cemetery, they expect to have it forever," funeral director Steve Haddock says.

"They expect it's the final resting place of their loved ones, and I don't think they would be happy about buying it for a short amount of time and then knowing the person is going to be dug up and moved."

Reusing graves is inappropriate in some cultures, including Māori. 

"When we lay someone to rest it's with the knowledge that whānau are comforted that's their final resting place," says Tyrone Raumati, a funeral home cultural adviser.

"If there is to be this change around reusable plots, then what happens after that?" 

Details on how grave rental would work are still being decided, but it's agreed New Zealand needs to have the conversation.

"I think it's something we are going to have to do a deep dive into," Raumati says.

The council has other ideas for its cemeteries. It's proposing allowing QR codes on gravestones so you could be linked to a person's digital memorial.

The council also wants to ban videos on headstones, something that hasn't taken off here yet but is proving popular overseas.

The public can have its say on the proposal from next month, but a survey already shows people are very much split on this difficult subject.