Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Bid to limit scatter of ashes

Bereaved will need okay from council and Maori to use any public place — and pay.

Neil Boyd spread his wife Joan's ashes under camellia bushes.
Neil Boyd spread his wife Joan's ashes under camellia bushes.

Plans to make grieving families apply for permission to scatter their loved ones' ashes in public have been labelled crass and insensitive.

As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoria, Auckland Council wants to prevent people from scattering ashes in any public place - including beaches and reserves - unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Kimiti (a Maori committee that oversees sacred areas).

Even people wanting to scatter the ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in forms for approval and pay "applicable fees" to the council.

The proposal, which could come into effect as early as November, has angered many people who feel the act doesn't harm anyone and often helps grieving families to find closure by honouring a loved one's final wish.

The Funeral Directors' Association says such a move will have an significant impact.

"Scattering is an important part of the grieving process and for many it is a saying of 'goodbye'," said chief executive Katrina Shanks. "It's a private thing that people do in their own time.

"It will affect the many families who wish to discreetly deposit the ashes at a favourite place.

"Also, Hindu families often wish to scatter ashes in the sea within 24 hours of cremation. How do you get prior written approval for that in 24 hours? This would make that problematic."

Ms Shanks said the association wants the council to specify how consent would be sought and approved, and who would monitor and police any breaches.

Instead of bringing in a bylaw that tells people to get consent, she said, the council should be finding a bylaw that fits what people are doing.

Other proposed changes were also insensitive to the cultural, religious and social needs of families and were too restrictive, said Ms Shanks.

People opposed to the scattering of ashes often cite possible health risks and a dislike for being in public areas where they may encounter human remains.

However, Ms Shanks said there were no health issues, as cremations occur at 800C and "nothing can survive that".

Funeral celebrant Richard Aston said councils had no part in an important human ritual and the proposals were crass and insensitive.

"These are significant and moving experiences for all involved."

Beaches, the Domain, sports grounds - particularly cricket pitches - and Western Springs Reserve were popular areas in Auckland.

"The location of the scattering becomes somewhat sacred to that family for many years to come."

Disposal of ashes has been an issue for years, with restrictions or bans in areas such as parks or gardens.

Signs were put up in Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park, where the Parnell Rose Gardens are situated, asking people not to scatter ashes on the rose beds because of the large volume of ash left.

Regulatory and bylaws committee chairman Calum Penrose said the plan was an amalgamation of provisions in the bylaws of the councils that merged to form the Super City. The aim was to provide consistency across the region.

"Ensuring we treat the deceased and their families with respect and dignity is paramount," said Mr Penrose.

"The proposed bylaw and code of practice still allows operational staff to work with individual families to best meet their needs. However, we need to ensure the health and safety of visitors and workers."

He said no decisions had been made and following hearings and deliberations, the hearings panel would make recommendations to the council governing body.

Wife's wishes come first, says husband

Retiree Neil Boyd scattered his wife Joan's ashes among the camellia bushes at the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa because she always loved pretty flowers.

Before the 73-year-old died in January, she told her family she wanted to have her ashes scattered in the gardens.

"We've got a lot of camellias here at home and she's always liked them," said Mr Boyd.

"The funeral director checked and there is a place allocated for ashes where the native trees are ... but we chose the camellias."

Mr Boyd said nothing would have prevented him from scattering his wife's ashes among the camellia bushes - and he would not have applied for permission had there been a council bylaw in place at the time. He has also asked his two sons and daughter to scatter his ashes among the same camellia bushes as his late wife.

"I'm pretty sure they'll do it regardless [of any rules]."

Scattering of ashes

• Proposed bylaw would amalgamate rules from councils that merged to form Super City
• Bylaw would require people to apply for written approval to scatter ashes in public places such as beaches, parks and reserves, as well as in council-run cemeteries.
• At present, Waitakere, Papakura and Franklin have no rules for scattering ashes and North Shore and Manukau have restrictions on where they can go within cemetery grounds.

• For information on the bylaw plan: http://tiny.cc/mjbxgx

- NZ Herald

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