Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)
Consultation considers extra charges for burying overweight but hears crane “not necessary”
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has been urged to make families “fully aware” of the number of interments that can be accommodated within a grave.
The issue was highlighted in the first stage of a consultation into the council’s regulations for cemeteries in the borough.
Some 300 local clergy, funeral directors and stone masons have had their say ahead of a four-week public consultation which will now take place.
Initial responses were presented to councillors at a meeting of this month’s Direct Services Committee.
Respondents were asked for their view on the legal requirement for the depth of a new grave which is 274cm/nine ft as long as ground conditions permit.
One commented that this requirement limits the number of caskets per plot to three and most families expect to be able to bury four per plot.
Another stressed that accurate records must be kept so that families are “fully aware of the number of interments that can be accommodated within a grave”.
The council was told that a new grave “needs to be at least nine ft deep and able to accommodate four burials otherwise fees ought to be reduced”.
Respondents were also asked for their views on “oversized” coffins for deceased weighing more than 25 stone and whether or not the authority should charge a supplement as “such a burial requires additional resource and expenditure”, the report says.
Three replies said that this was “acceptable” as long as the fee was “reasonable”. One said that the additional cost of crane hire could be factored into other cemetery charges so that the cost is “not borne directly by the loved ones of the deceased”.
One suggested that a crane is not necessary for additional weight and indicated that other councils can carry out burials of up to 35 stone using “manual methods”.
Another said grave diggers should not be required to carry “exceptionally heavy coffins” to prevent injury.
One of the respondents said it would be “heartless to have a family witness their loved one lowered by crane” and suggested that if staff are willing to lower a coffin manually, then this should be allowed.
It was also suggested that costs are raised “across the board” to cover any additional cost.
The consultation also asked about headstones and grave surrounds. The council proposes a stipulation that headstones and surrounds are not permitted within the “paupers'” sections of the borough’s cemeteries.
One response stated that a no surround rule needs to be “rigorously enforced” in the new Larne Cemetery. A lawn cemetery has been proposed at the facility at Old Glenarm Road.
A number said that every individual/family should have the right to a headstone and there should be “equality of treatment”.
Among concerns raised was that of dog control. Dog foul and dogs off-lead were issues highlighted.
Planning permission for a new £2.1m cemetery at Old Glenarm Road was approved by the council’s Planning Committee last May.
The new 15-acre site consists of two fields opposite 382 Old Glenarm Road on the right side of the road towards Ballygally. It is expected to be able to facilitate almost 4,000 plots with capacity for 25 years.
It is anticipated there will be 180 burials annually with a maximum of three per day.
The cemetery will include a memorial garden, 140 parking spaces, public toilets including a Changing Places facility for disabled users, a staff building with access to the site by a new right-hand turning lane.
Meanwhile, tests are being carried out at a proposed site at Trooperslane Road for a new cemetery in Carrickfergus. The town’s main burial site at Victoria Cemetery is estimated to reach maximum capacity in 12 years.
Elected members have already been told historic monuments have been found on land earmarked for the new cemetery and “significant work was to be carried out to map out exactly the extent to which the site would be suitable for burials”.
Councillors have asked for alternative sites which had been suggested at an earlier stage in proceedings to be reconsidered.