Scottish Borders Council, which manages 154 burial grounds, is supporting new legislation which, if enacted, would allow plots which are already full to be re-used.
The radical move, designed to free up burial space and extend the lifespan of cemeteries, is enshrined in a Scottish Government consultation on its proposed Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill.
The re-use of full lairs, common practice in several European countries, involves remains being exhumed and re-interred at a deeper level. However, it will only apply to graves where the last burial took place at least 75 years ago and councils will have to publicly advertise their intention to re-use a lair.
“If any surviving relative came forward to object, then re-use would not be permitted,” states the consultation paper. However, a “key aim” of the proposed legislation is to stop lairs and cemeteries falling into disuse and disrepair and, if a descendent does come forward, he or she will become responsible for the upkeep of the lair and any memorials.
SBC’s executive have endorsed a report by neighbourhood area manager Jason Hedley who said the re-use of graves, although “potentially controversial” could reduce council costs in providing new burial space and increasing the capacity of older cemeteries.
He said the council could also benefit financially from the proposal to end the practice of lairs being sold in perpetuity (for ever) and that transfer of ownership need not be restricted to family members.
Councillors agreed that the new legislation should contain provision for so-called home burials, provided there were no land ownership issues and interments were carried out by “competent staff to ensure appropriate health and safety procedures are followed”.
They also supported the scrapping of the current legal restriction that crematoriums cannot be situated within 200 yards of housing.