16/06/2011 - 00:00

More cemetries, land live issue for board

16/06/2011 - 00:00

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After just three months in the top job, Metropolitan Cemeteries Board chief executive Peter Deague is quietly confident the board will secure land from the state government to develop at least three new cemeteries in the metropolitan area to meet demand f

More cemetries, land live issue for board

After just three months in the top job, Metropolitan Cemeteries Board chief executive Peter Deague is quietly confident the board will secure land from the state government to develop at least three new cemeteries in the metropolitan area to meet demand for the next 20 years.

Cemeteries do not feature prominently in popular planning debate and yet we all expect to have this vital infrastructure almost on our doorstep when we need it.

It’s an issue that has been at the forefront of Mr Deague’s mind for more than a decade after the board lost 60 hectares of land to the government’s land conservation initiative, Bush Forever.

The loss of these holdings in Midland, Guildford and Pinnaroo was the catalyst for a major review, which identified a 250ha shortfall in the board’s land holdings.

Urban infill has also had a significant impact on the availability of land for cemeteries in established suburban areas and, despite adopting a “grave renewal” strategy, which freed up land between graves for new burials, the board needed to develop at least three new cemeteries to service the population out to 2031.

Mr Deague said without this renewal process Karrakatta Cemetery would have closed for new burials as far back as 2003.

The government and the WA Planning Commission have already worked with the board to find a 40ha site at the former Whitby Falls hospital south of Armadale as well as 100ha near Whiteman Park.

The board is also hopeful it can secure land from the government in the busy northern corridor to develop a new cemetery to service that area as well.

The former director of planning and operations for the MCB, Mr Deague said the board was focused on keeping the cost of funerals down and this was only possible if the government could work with it to find parcels of land.

At first glance, 250ha of land does not sound like a huge landholding but the board needed big parcels within close proximity to the suburban population and it could not afford to buy land without increasing the cost of funerals.

“Unless we plan for this now and unless land is set aside for cemeteries, when Perth develops into a larger community, communities won’t be able to reach a cemetery within 30-45 minutes,” Mr Deague said.

He said the flow-on effect of this was far reaching because people would stop attending funeral services if they had to travel long distances to get to a cemetery.

It was an issue the board grappled with particularly when its very conservative modelling revealed land acquisition costs would add at least $50 to the cost of a funeral and that figure did not include the additional impost of developing the necessary cemetery infrastructure such as chapels and memorial gardens.

After working closely with the WA Planning Commission and the Department of Planning, the board was presented with a number of land sites for redevelopment as cemeteries.

“The WA Planning Commission and the Department of Planning have been exceptionally helpful in assisting the MCB and our Minister, (John) Castrilli, in achieving those community objectives,” Mr Deague said.

“They have been able to set aside land at Whitby Falls for the south-eastern urban community, which covers Serpentine-Jarrahdale and Armadale-Gosnells.”

The transfer of the land, which was part of the old Whitby Falls hospital, is imminent and a new cemetery will be developed on the site to service this fast-growing sector.

Mr Deague said there was broad community support for the development of new cemeteries in the major growth corridors, which he said reflected the important role cemeteries played in the community.

The board is also working with the City of Swan on a proposal for a site adjoining Whiteman Park.

This 100ha government-owned land has been earmarked for a new cemetery, with a regional sporting facility on an adjoining piece of land.

“The other area that I need to look at is in the north-western urban corridor where a significant amount of growth is planned,” Mr Deague said.

The board has looked at a couple of parcels of land in this area and it expects to secure something in the Alkimos area, which along with the Whitby Falls site and the Whiteman Park property, will completely cover the 250ha shortfall it initially identified.

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