The ACT government said the imminent first stage of the work will be on costings and the planning of «infrastructure and landscaping».
“The design will look at features including the entrance, road access, paths and parking, burial and memorial areas, fencing, building footprints for a main office, memorial halls and a works depot, as well as landscaping such as trees and shrub plantings,» Minister for City Services Chris Steel said.
“The proposed Southern Memorial Park would provide interment services for the next 100 years and is essential for the growing Canberra community, providing an alternative to the Gungahlin Cemetery for the Southside.
“Woden Cemetery is now fully subscribed for new burials which is why we are building a new cemetery for the Southside to meet the needs for our growing city.»
He said the new cemetery would «also be designed to allow for a second crematorium for Canberra».
The ACT Greens welcomed the go-ahead for the new cemetery but urged that it should allow «natural burials» where the body is buried so it can decompose easily in the earth.
«A growing number of ACT residents are interested in returning to the earth in a natural and environmentally friendly way,» the party’s spokeswoman on planning in the legislative assembly, Caroline Le Couteur said.
“Sustainable alternatives to traditional burial or cremation include biodegradable coffins or shrouds as well as vertical burial. Natural burial methods have been operating successfully in other jurisdictions for many years.»
A private company is already planning the crematorium. InvoCare operates funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria around Australia, New Zealand and Singapore under the better-known brand names, White Lady Funerals, Simplicity Funerals, Value Cremations and more than 30 other brands across Australia, including Tobin Brothers in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
It’s being represented by Purdon Planning which also worked on the plans for the Southern Memorial Park in 2009.
The company’s general manager, Richard Nash, told The Canberra Times, «Purdon Planning are working with the project team and are still finalising components of the design. The project is progressing with Stage One designs currently being finalized for the crematoria and shared services. Further community consultation will take place prior to the Development Application which is to be lodged later in 2019.»
Burial space on the south side of Canberra is expected to run out soon with the cemetery at Woden filling up quickly.
The ACT government was considering expanding it but dropped the plan due to the second stage of light rail.
The severe shortage of space and the competition for land between private developers of lucrative housing projects and public uses like cemeteries has prompted a debate about whether graves should be offered in perpetuity rather than leasing them to bereaved families for a limited time.
The Catholic Church has opposed the idea of leasing plots for graves. In a consultation on a new site in southern Canberra, Father Julian Wellspring said, «Our belief is that the body is sacred and that once a person dies and is buried they rest in the grave until the day of resurrection.
«The idea of disturbing a grave that we bless and make a sacred site for a burial is troubling to religious sensibilities.»
It’s not clear which system the new cemetery will have. Mr Steel said, «The proposed Southern Memorial Park would provide interment services for the next 100 years and is essential for the growing Canberra community, providing an alternative to the Gungahlin Cemetery for the southside.”
Cemeteries are expensive to run because of the maintenance of the graves (in contrast to crematoria). It’s not clear what the budget for the new cemetery will be. That detail is to be investigated by the ACT government in the coming months.
Steve Evans is a reporter for The Canberra Times.