THE cost of weekend burials in Larne is to rise by up to 400 per cent next month.
The local council has ratified fees which will increase the cost of opening a new grave for a Sunday burial from £207 to £657 and from £155 to £405 on Saturdays.
That is on top of the charge for buying a cemetery plot, which is about to go up from £120 to £200. It means a Sunday burial will be more than twice the cost of week days.
Higher fees to come into effect on April 1 also apply to charges for grave transfers and erecting headstones and surrounds.
The new schedule of charges was published by the council for the first time in minutes presented for validation at Monday’s monthly meeting. During the weeks of number-crunching ahead of last month’s announcement of a four per cent rise in the district rate, reference had been made to increased charges, but the scale of the hikes for weekend burials shocked some councillors.
The decision was taken at a special meeting of the council, held in committee. Minutes show that seven councillors voted in favour and two against the proposal of DUP alderman Winston Fulton, seconded by Ald Roy Beggs, UUP. A proposal by SDLP councillor Martin Wilson, seconded by Sinn Fein’s James McKeown, to halt weekend burials was defeated.
Ald Fulton told the Larne Times the council had “no choice” but to increase burial charges to bring them in to line with other councils.
“It is unfortunate, but we had to do this,” he added. “The fact of the matter is that the burial charges have not been reviewed for some time and Larne was charging less than other councils. It was brought to our attention that people in other areas, like Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey, were buying plots in the cemeteries in Islandmagee and Ballycarry because the fees were so much lower, even for them as non-residents.
“As everybody knows, there is a limited number of new plots available in Larne and if plots are being bought by people from outside the borough that reduces the number that would be available for Larne residents.”
Plans for a new cemetery at Craigyhill have been put on hold pending an investigation of water table levels, demanded by the NI Environment Agency. In the meantime, new grave plots are being sold only as required: they cannot be purchased in advance.
The new week-day fees are priced to be slightly cheaper than at Carrickfergus cemeteries and are slightly more expensive than in Ballymena. Charges for outsiders are double what a Larne residents will be asked to pay.
However, the new fees for weekend burials put Larne in a different league. Ballymena council incurs no extra charge for grave openings on weekends, bank or public holidays; Carrickfergus applies an additional £73 fee; but in Larne, residents might pay up to £657 for a Sunday burial and non-residents up to £760. Ald Fulton said: “People have a choice. In some council areas there are no weekend burials at all because councils have to pay overtime rates.
“The council decided to give people a choice whether to have burials at the weekend, or on a Friday if it suits, or wait until a Monday, or whatever. Weekend burials are more costly because of the overtime involved and the fees have to reflect that.”
Council minutes reveal that the price hikes were not passed without dissent. Having been informed there were around 40 weekend burials each year in the borough, Cllr Wilson objected to the scale of the charges for Saturdays and Sundays and moved unsuccessfully that the weekend service be discontinued.