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Councillor’s fears over new burial strategy

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By Marc McLean, local democracy reporter
Councillor’s fears over new burial strategy

DUMFRIES and Galloway Council could be making another grave error in trying to solve the problem of a shortage of space at cemeteries, a councillor warned this week.

The local authority was embroiled in controversy several years ago for dismantling around 1140 headstones considered unsafe and “socketing” them into the ground – without properly notifying relatives.

This practice caused anguish and anger for families, a petition to the Scottish Government, and even prompted a Sanquhar man to take legal action due to damage caused to a loved one’s headstone.

With cemeteries now filling up locally and a shortage of burial spaces, the council is to begin reclaiming lairs that have been unused for 50 years or more.

But this move is ringing alarm bells for North West Dumfries Councillor Andy Ferguson.

Speaking at the communities committee on Tuesday, he said: “If we learned anything from the dangerous gravestones situation, we learned – talk to people. Speak to people, don’t just do.”

He asked for clarity, saying: “Does that mean nothing’s happened with them in 50 years?

“It’s quite realistic for a young family to bury a child aged two, and then they’d maybe want to be buried next to their child.

“I’m wondering if the 50 years is practical? Maybe we should reconsider that 50 years and maybe make it slightly longer, given that people are living longer these days.”

Karen Brownlie, interim head of facilities, waste and neighbourhood services, responded: “The 50-year period is what is detailed in the Burials and Cremations (Scotland) Act, so that’s where we’ve taken that information from.

“We will work through a process of looking at our burial records and if we’ve got contact details then certainly. But it’s unlikely that we’ll have many contact details of lair holders.

Stressing the importance of speaking to the public, Councillor Ferguson said: “This could be another classic example of meaning well, but you could make every aunty, uncle, granny, and grandpa under the sun not happy if their relative’s grave is taken back, because they’re still in the ground there.

“I’m just a bit worried about the application of that. Maybe we should take a bit of time and have a think about that.”

A report tabled at Tuesday’s meeting highlighted the danger of people being buried outwith their home towns if space for more graves isn’t found or unused lairs aren’t reclaimed.

Moffat, Dalton, Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie cemeteries are among those which could be full within years.

Councillors agreed the changes, however it was also agreed that each one will be dealt with on a case by case basis, and attempts will be made to contact relatives.

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