NSW Minister orders halt to cemetery construction
The NSW government’s order to stop construction of Sydney’s newest cemetery is “inexplicable” and will affect many including people of faith, says its Catholic operators.
Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey asked the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust to halt work on the interfaith Macarthur Memorial Park at Varroville in Sydney’s south west until it had responded to a government report highlighting the urgent need for burial space across the city.
The report, ‘The 11th hour: Solving Sydney’s cemetery crisis’ also recommends improving regulation of the sector as well as a standardised and consumer-friendly pricing model.
Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries, a not-for-profit trust, says it supports the report’s findings, but that it already operates efficiently, has kept its prices relatively low and ensured it will have the funds to maintain its cemeteries into the future.
“The Government has now had the cemeteries review report for six months without any response to its various options….[except] to stop this ‘shovel-ready’ development at Varroville.” – Peter O’Meara
Chief executive officer Peter O’Meara said he was “very surprised and frustrated” by Minister Pavey’s order given Sydney’s cemeteries are an estimated three to 15 years away from running out of burial space. “Cemeteries such as Rookwood, Liverpool, and Woronora which have served Sydney residents well for over 100 years are nearly full,” he said.
The construction of Macarthur Memorial Park is supported by a number of other faith groups including the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Muslim Cemeteries Board. Chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff told media that it was the only solution that could currently meet the Jewish community’s burial needs. “We face a critical shortage of cemetery space and are anxious to see this initiative progress,” he said.
The Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust also has a multi-faith cemetery development at Wallacia, and says there will more than 180,000 plots between the two developments across more than 150 hectares. “After eight years of preparation by us and our consultants, Macarthur Memorial Park at Varroville was due to commence construction last February 2020 when the Minister put this on hold pending a Statutory Review into Cemeteries,” said Mr O’Meara.
“This report was finally tabled in Parliament on 19 February 2021. The review identified the critical shortage of burial space and the urgent need for both these new cemetery developments to proceed.
“For some inexplicable reason, the Minister and bureaucrats again put these developments on hold saying the Government has made no decisions or commitments regarding the ongoing operations of Crown Cemeteries. The Government has now had the cemeteries review report for six months without any response to its various options.
“Their only response is to stop this ‘shovel-ready’ development at Varroville. So much for the Premier‘s instruction to get the economy going with ‘shovel-ready’ projects in these times of high unemployment.
“The civil contractor told me they had to lay off 20 subcontractors because of Minister Pavey’s decision.”
It has been almost four years since a review of the Catholic trust’s future as a Crown cemetery operator began at the request of former Lands Minister Paul Toole and the NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Mr O’Meara explained. “It is critical we finalise a solution quickly for the new Macarthur Memorial Park site as we are incurring escalating building costs,” he said.
The cemetery would add 136,000 burial spaces, and be available to all, but is especially anticipated by faith groups that expect to run out of space in the next three to 15 years.
The other four cemetery trusts that operate in Sydney are held by the government. A recommendation of the report to merge the five trusts into one to reduce inefficiencies and provide standardised maintenance of cemeteries was a separate issue to the urgent need to commence work at Varroville, the Catholic trust said.