6.53The issues raised in this discussion suggest the current legal framework for managing and protecting land used for burial is no longer suitable. Effective decision making about the long-term preservation of such land is too often hindered by the lack of clarity about the legal status of the land and the confusing interface between the Burial and Cremation Act, the Reserves Act and other legislation.
6.54The restrictions on transferring ownership of land used for burial are primarily directed at preventing alternative use, rather than on promoting best-practice use and management. The question we raise for consideration and debate is whether legal protections should instead be focused on standards for management, irrespective of ownership. A secondary question is whether cemeteries should be required to adhere to minimum maintenance standards and if so, what these standards should require.
6.55The regime for closing cemeteries and burial grounds is overly complex and in our preliminary view does not always address the appropriate public interests. While there are public health issues arising from the management of land used for burials, the more significant public interests that arise in the context of closing and preserving old cemeteries and burial grounds are conservation and heritage issues. However, under the current regime, these issues may not be adequately addressed. In addition, the ministerial decision-making power to close or permit the sale of burial grounds is discretionary and in practice is delegated to officials. It does not include formal notification and opportunity for public submissions.
6.56As we have discussed, some of New Zealand’s most historic gravesites are contained in the legacy trustee-managed cemeteries and so it is important to have efficient and nationally consistent systems for managing these cemeteries at the point at which their trustees are no longer able to do so. The current mechanisms for transferring ownership and control of such cemeteries, and ensuring their long-term preservation, are not optimal.
6.57In our view, public debate is needed regarding reforming the legal framework for identifying, managing and preserving land used for human burial. As can be seen from our discussion of these issues, the legal framework controlling the ownership and management of land used for human burial must accommodate a range of public and private interests, some of which may be in conflict with each other and some of which will alter over time. In the period of consultation following this review we hope to receive a wide range of public submissions on these issues and these will guide the final policies and legal reforms we recommend to government in our Final Report. We consider that the framework needs to be flexible, robust and efficient, and must provide for the recognition and protection of cultural, heritage, community and environmental values.
6.58In chapter 7 we outline our preliminary proposals for approaching the myriad policy issues raised in this and the preceding chapter.