COUNCIL bosses in the Highlands have come under fire for providing a £10.5million centre to help people trace their family trees while posing a question mark over the future of thousands of gravestones which provide vital genealogy information.
The dispute has arisen over a council review of management rules for burial grounds which could see the sale of cemetery plots in perpetuity replaced by a system of 25-year leases.
However, the proposal has met with “huge concerns” among people who fear that a “rent-a-lair” arrangement could lead to vacant spaces in old family plots being reused for new burials, a claim denied by council officials.
There has also been criticism from Highland historians who have called for the month-long consultation period, which ended on October 16, to be further extended. They fear that a substantial amount of genealogical and historical information could be lost forever if the council scheme is approved.
Morvern historian Iain Thornber, of Knock House, Lochaline, queries what will happen to the original headstone if a plot was resold to another family. He said: “The simple answer is that it will be carted off by the local authority and dumped and the information on it lost. It is all very well for burial registers to be computerised but that is not the point.
“Not only do gravestones contain more information than a record of death but their style, design and decorations are often peculiar to certain areas.”
He has urged all monumental masons and local history societies in the Highlands to lodge objections to what he calls is a ridiculous suggestion.
“What is the point of one Highland Council department trumpeting the value of written records and spending millions of pounds building a wonderful new archive to preserve them while another seeks to destroy an equally valuable and rich, cultural repository?
“The Danes have a similar system of leasing and it is sad to visit a graveyard and not find many stones older than a few years. This must not be allowed to happen in Scotland.”
Councillor Alex Graham, whose Inverness ward includes Tomnahurich and Kilvean cemeteries, says there is a need for clarity about some of the proposals with some members of the public worried that it could affect lairs already purchased. He said: “This is a very important and sensitive issue.”
Councillor John Laing, chairman of the council’s transport environmental and community services committee, said: “Quite a number of representations have been made and these will be looked at when the matter goes before the committee.”