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Plan to reuse graves ignores 'cultural signifance' of burial in the Highlands, MSPs told

By Duncan Ross and Val Sweeney

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There are plans to reuse graves in the Highlands if they have been abandoned for more than 100 years
There are plans to reuse graves in the Highlands if they have been abandoned for more than 100 years

CONTROVERSIAL plans to create more grave space by allowing plots more than 100 years old to be reused would not be acceptable in the Highlands, MSPs have been told.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill currently going through Holyrood proposes to give councils power to reuse graves which appear to be abandoned and where the last burial was at least a century ago.

The remains would be exhumed while the grave was deepened, then reburied in the same plot and the extra space would be sold for new burials.

An empty grave space would be considered potentially suitable for reuse if 50 years had elapsed since it was last sold and it appeared to be abandoned.

In its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the bill, Highland Council said it was against reusing graves where exhumation would be required because this was “contrary to the cultural significance of burial in the Highlands”.

But it did support reusing empty graves after 50 years.

The council’s response to the consultation was agreed by the community services committee last week.

But Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr said the council’s response to the bill should have been “much stronger” and he believed the council was responsible for the upkeep of graves in perpetuity.

“I am baffled they can now talk about reusing them,” he said. “It is very worrying. Scots all over the world come here to trace their ancestors and I have taken some of them on tours of our historic graveyards. I am very concerned about this.”

Speaking after the meeting, a spokesman for Highland Council stressed it was not running out of burial spaces.

“The Highlands has sufficient space,” he said. “There are local burial grounds where capacity is low, but extensions and or alternative arrangements have been sourced.

“We are negotiating to secure additional land and, where we have secured land, extensions are being designed and constructed, for example in Nairn, Portree, Tain and Acharacle, with the latter two having recently been completed.

“We are also in negotiation with the Church of Scotland about an extension at Dores.”

Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness for the Scottish Episcopal Church, agreed burials carried a bigger significance in the Highlands.

“I am still called to do more burials than I would have been in other parts of my ministry,” he said. “It seems to be about being rooted in the community – literally, in the sense of burial.

“I think the cultural issue of burial is still important to people and certainly I don’t want to be disturbing someone’s space within the lifetime of their nearest and dearest. But if someone has bought three lairs for the family and then emigrated to Australia and not come back, then certainly it should be reused.”

Bishop Strange said that in Episcopal churchyards, people could not buy a lair in a reserved space in advance.

“You have permission to be buried in the churchyard,” he said. “When the time comes, you may get the space you like but it is not reserved space.”

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