Stand in peace? That's a hard sell, say undertakers

8:33 am on 11 January 2016

Auckland Council is considering vertical burials as a solution to overcrowded cemeteries but funeral directors say many New Zealanders would find the idea difficult to accept.

Two of the biggest council-owned cemeteries, Waikumete and North Shore, will be full within a few years, bringing pressure to find alternatives.

Waikumete Cemetery

Waikumete Cemetery will be full within a few years. Photo: J E McGowan / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

The council is seeking submissions on innovative burial methods.

One of the proposals put forward is vertical burial plots, which the council said was offered in a number of cemeteries overseas.

Manager of cemeteries Catherine Moore accepted the idea of burying the dead standing up would probably not be well received by most Aucklanders.

"We're not sure that it's going to be acceptable to a large sector of our community so ... that's part of what council needs to consider."

She said the council wanted to expand its existing plot at Waikumete and partner with businesses which had new ideas.

"What we're looking for are any other innovative ways that we could look at making use of the means that we've already got on our site than having to start another cemetery somewhere."

Ms Moore said another option could be pulling up pathways and roads to make more room - but that was not something the council would favour.

Funeral Directors Association president Gavin Murphy said diminishing space in burial sites around the country was a problem, but vertical cemeteries would be difficult for many New Zealanders to accept.

"The whole thing about New Zealanders is being accustomed to laying their loved ones to rest, and I think a section of laying loved ones to rest is laying them down in the ground."

In July last year Auckland Council increased the cost of traditional cemetery plots, abolishing a subsidy in order to cover operating costs.

Association executive director Katrina Shanks said it was good the council was looking for cheaper solutions, but communities must not be forced into burial options they did not want, as happened when the council changed its fees.

"What it's done is taking choice away from people where they can afford to be buried, forcing some people into cremation.

"The cost of ash plots has gone up as well, which is also causing pressure on families who want to use ash plots."

Ms Shanks said cultural and religious practices should also be taken into consideration.

Waitakere Funeral Services funeral director Francis Tipene said it will take a lot of persuasion to convince Maori and Pacific Island families vertical burials were a good idea.

"When you say 'rest in peace' it probably wouldn't feel like the body is resting standing up. Obviously when you go rest, you lie down.

"Especially if it's a loved one like your grandmother who's quite elderly, and when you're lowering her standing up, even just for me, I find that hard to take in."

Mr Tipene said thinking around funerals had changed over time, and 80 percent of families were choosing cremation.

But he said the council should instead be partnering with local iwi, such as Ngāti Whātua or Te Kawerau a Maki, to buy some new land for burials.