10.43Cremation has been recognised in legislation since 1874 as a means of disposing of a dead body. However, the first crematorium in New Zealand was only established in 1909 by Wellington City Council in Karori Cemetery. Until the last 20 years, most crematoria were provided by local authorities, despite the legislation permitting private crematoria. However, since then, the price of new cremators has reduced, enabling many more private crematoria to be established. Currently, about 70 per cent of deceased people are cremated.
10.44Some alternative methods of “cremating” bodies are gaining popularity overseas. In particular, alkaline hydrolysis has recently been legalised in 11 states in the United States of America and two in Canada. This process uses liquid chemicals and high pressure to dissolve bodies. Its proponents believe it is more environmentally friendly than cremation because it does not pollute the air and requires less energy.
10.45Although there is no central register of crematoria, for the purposes of our review, the Ministry of Health with the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand compiled data that shows there are 52 crematoria in operation, 15 of which are operated by local authorities and the remainder by private providers. Many of the private cremators are located in funeral homes.
10.46Currently, any person who wishes to establish a crematorium needs to consider both the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA) and the Burial and Cremation Act 1964. Whether or not a proposed crematorium requires resource consent under the RMA depends on the rules in the relevant district plan. In some instances, resource consent is not required if operating a crematorium is a permitted activity in the proposed location. If resource consent is required, the local authority must determine whether the consent should be notified, giving neighbours or the public the opportunity to make submissions.
10.47The Act says very little about crematoria besides providing that the Minister of Health’s approval is required for the construction of a crematorium. The Ministry of Health has published guidelines for the siting and construction of crematoria. In practice, an assessment is made of any resource consent (if required) and the specifications and plans for the crematorium against applicable guidelines.
10.48A separate approval is required from the Minister of Health under the Regulations to begin to use a crematorium. Generally, a health protection officer observes a test firing of the cremator and provides a report as to whether or not there were any visible smoke emissions or identifiable odour emissions.
10.49Other provisions in the Act empower local authorities to operate crematoria, and detailed requirements for the operation of crematoria are provided in the Regulations. In Chapter 11, we discuss problems with the Regulations and make proposals for reform in Chapter 14.
10.50There is no guidance in the Act as to the scattering of ashes, although some local authorities have opted to produce their own guidance. For example, the Wellington City Council Commemorative Policy of 2006 gives detailed guidance on places that have been approved for scattering, areas where scattering is allowed and how people may apply for approval for the scattering of ashes in other public places. This policy has been developed in consultation with local iwi organisations.
10.51In 2014, Auckland Council proposed that the scattering of ashes on public land may only take place with the written approval of the Council. This proposal created public controversy. The Council amended its proposal in response to the public opposition. Under the new proposal, there is no requirement to apply to the Council to scatter ashes. Instead, the Council has published guidance about scattering ashes and will put up signs in sensitive places indicating that ashes should not be scattered there.