Editorial: Crass bylaw for ashes deserves rapid burial

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

It is only natural that families want to sprinkle ashes in places that were meaningful to the deceased. Parks, beaches, lakes, rivers, mountains and sporting grounds are high on the list. Until quite recently, this posed no hint of a problem because most people chose to be buried. That has all changed, however, with the increased number of cremations, and the far higher proportion of ashes being taken from crematoriums. In Britain, this has led to relatives being asked to stop going to mountain tops because ashes can overstimulate plant growth. More dogmatically still, Manchester United has stopped the remains of fans being sprinkled on its pitches.

Now, the Auckland Council has ventured into this area. As part of a wider bylaw covering cemeteries and crematoriums, it wants to prevent people scattering ashes in any public place - including beaches and parks - unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Komiti, a Maori committee overseeing sacred areas. Even people wanting to scatter ashes in a public cemetery would need to fill in approval forms and pay an "applicable" fee to the council.

Predictably enough, the proposal has attracted a storm of protest.

That anger is justified on several grounds. The council documents on the issue provide no detailed background to suggest major problems are arising from the scattering of ashes, either in terms of health or other risk, cultural sensitivities, or the growing extent of the practice. While cremations have become more popular, there are still only about 3000 a year in Auckland, compared with 2200 burials. That is a long way from the situation in Britain, where problems have arisen from the 420,000 cremations annually.

This suggests that, in the main, the council is looking for a solution where no significant problem exists. In effect, the creation of the Super City, and the need to amalgamate bylaws inherited from former councils are being used by council officers to pursue a policy that incorporates their view of an ideal approach but pays no heed to a well-established and popular practice. Whether they like it or not, the scattering of ashes is now viewed by many grieving families as a way of finding closure by honouring a loved one's final wish. It is insensitive to suggest this should be possible only with council approval and, in some cases, the payment of a fee.

Nonetheless, the practice is creating a minor issue, most notably because of the popularity of some areas. This has led to signs being erected in Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park, the site of the Parnell Rose Gardens, asking people not to scatter ashes on the rose beds because of the large volume of ash left. Conceivably, similar steps may have to be taken eventually at other popular spots, such as the Domain, sports grounds, and Western Springs Reserve.

But any such action can be taken tastefully, and certainly need not incorporate the sort of approach now being contemplated by the council and, indeed, already enshrined in the new Auckland Council Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw. An example has been set by Manchester City. To save the grass of its pitches but still cater for those wanting to scatter ashes, it has built a memorial garden. A similar sensitivity might see much the same happen here and people booking times at which they can scatter ashes in popular places. That would provide privacy for those grieving and prevent complaints from other people.

A funeral celebrant described the council's proposals as "crass". That is apt. On an issue that demanded subtlety, it has employed a sledgehammer. Its proposal warrants the most rapid of burials.

- NZ Herald

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