Families of people whose bodies are buried at Ayr Cemetery have been given just days to decide whether to have their relatives exhumed while waterlogged lairs are fixed.

South Ayrshire Council has given family members uintil May 18 to decide whether their relatives should be exhumed from lairs affected by drainage problems, or to leave them in place while the water is drained and repair work undertaken.

Some members of the public who have family buried in the affected part of the Ayr Cemetery extension have started a petition asking the council for more time.

Concerns over waterlogging at the cemetery were first raised in October of last year.

Natalie Campbell, whose father, Norman Kennedy, is buried in the extension, said: "I think it's ridiculous. It's a big decision to make. The way I found out about it actually was that somebody had started a petition. It was a bit of a shock."

The Advertiser reported last week that the cemetery extension will be closed for four months from June to allow repair work to take place. The council said that visiting will still be allowed on Sundays.

Read more: Ayr Cemetery extension to be closed for FOUR months for work to repair lairs

But since then, the Advertiser has been told that a letter has been issued to the families affected, telling them that the bodies of their relatives will have to be exhumed or remain in-situ whilst the ground around them is disturbed as part of the work to fix the problem.

The letter was dated Friday, May 6. It was posted second class and Natalie says her sister did not receive it until Wednesday, May 11, with Natalie only funding out about it the next day.

The family has been given until just Wednesday, May 18 to come to a decision and inform the council.

Any exhumed bodies will be kept in a storage facility, along with memorial items, for the four months that the repair work is expected to last.

"It's terrible," Natalie said. 

"The tests were delayed for months and we missed my dad's birthday in January as that was the time when they had all the shutters up round about so we couldn't visit him on his birthday. Then it was the anniversary of his death in April and now we're being told that we'll not be able to visit again for four months."

Ayr Advertiser: The part of the cemetery which is affectedThe part of the cemetery which is affected

Natalie says that communication from the council has been poor throughout the ordeal.

She said: "All the correspondence we've had keeps saying 'thank you for being patient during our tests, would you like to ask anything?,' but we didn't have anything to ask because we didn't really know what was happening.

"Then we got a letter a couple of months back saying 'we're doing testing on empty chambers' and that they would come back with the test results.

"They came back and said 'unfortunately there seems to be water,' but they didn't say how much or how bad it was.

"The next thing we get slapped with a letter saying 'you've got five or six days to make a decision - do you want your dad taken away and put in a storage facility and then brought back in a standard coffin, which is picked by the council, your dad will be popped back in the ground and then you can visit again.'"

A choked-up Natalie continued: "There's things in my dad's coffin - my kids were younger when he died, they put in pictures and they actually wrote him letters and they won't be there now."

Read more: Families notified over leaks into burial chambers at cemetery

The online petition, started by Shauni Kennedy, has been signed by 876 people as this article was published.

Key among the requests are that families who choose to have their loved ones exhumed be allowed to choose the coffin which their relatives' bodies are placed in beforebeing returned to their lairs.

Another is for fresh clothing to be provided and the chance to add new personal items in the event of any having been destroyed by water damage.

Natalie added: "It's been a shambles. I know it's not the council's fault, because it's a sub-contractor that they've had in that told them that the lairs would be watertight and they've obviously not been.

"I would assume that this sub-contractor would have liability insurance and that the council would be claiming off them, but who decides what they actually claim? 

"They're saying it's going to be standard coffins - who are they to say it should be standard coffins?

"I feel as if we're being dictated to what's happening. We've got a choice to make out of two options, neither are very good at all, and we've never been told how much damage has been done to the coffins.  

"It's just awful, we've never had a forum where we can ask questions like 'what tests did you do, how did you do them?'.

"There's been such a lack of information and a lack of being able to ask questions and for me.

"I buried my dad four years ago, so I've kind of grieved, but there's people here who have been buried this year and I just think 'how will their families deal with that?'"

Natalie also wants more clarity on the options being proposed by the council, such as if her dad was to remain in-situ, what's the level of disruption that would likely be caused.

An extract from the statement published on the petition page, which can be found here, says: "We only have until the 18th of May to make that decision which is disgusting considering what they have put all of us through. 

"This is personal and when we all laid our loved ones at rest for the final time we should have felt at ease knowing that they were safe for ever, however this is brought us nothing but distress and heartache. 

"We have made this petition for everyone to hopefully sign and help us get closure and make our loved ones comfortable in there safe place at last."