China has unveiled a plan to have families inter the ashes of multiple relatives in one gravesite as a shortage of cemetery space looms over much of the country. The announcement comes just days after another controversial State Council decision to open up gated housing complexes to the public. A joint directive issued yesterday by nine ministries, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission, said the mainland would promote smaller graves and eco-friendly alternatives, such as sea burials and scattering ashes over flowers. “The whole country should recognise the importance and urgency of eco-friendly burials in the face of the grim situation resulting from the huge population, limited land supplies, severe pollution and a deteriorating environment,” the directive said. READ MORE: China’s plan to force private residential compounds to open to public is ‘illegal’: lawyers It said cemetery plots for graves in most provinces would be used up in 10 years. In a statement on how to interpret the rules, the ministries said the decision was “not a rigid request” but the public would be asked to gradually accept burials that protect the environment. The burial customs of ethnic minorities would be respected, it said. Officials and party members were expected to set an example and breaches of burial rules by cadres would be rectified. The directive ignited an outpouring of complaints online. “I hope that government leaders will set an example and vacate lands where their ancestors rest,” one online user said. Another said: “After tearing down gated communities, the government is seizing burial plots.” In a directive issued on Sunday, the State Council vowed to open private gated residential compounds to public traffic. In an attempt to contain a public outcry over the decision, the housing ministry issued a statement late Tuesday saying the changes would be gradual. READ MORE: China’s property boom spreads to the afterlife as tomb prices soar The statement quoted a ministry spokesman as saying that the opening up of gated residential areas would not be carried out in haste or in “rigid uniformity”, suggesting the policy might not apply to all gated communities. No other details were given. “Opening up residential compounds is not simply tearing down walls,” the spokesman said. The ministry also criticised “misunderstandings” about the new regulations, without elaborating on what they were. The directive stipulates that no more gated compounds will be built and all new residential developments will have to be incorporated into the public street system. Roads and common areas in existing gated compounds would be opened to the public, it said. Some critics were concerned about the impact of the change on safety, while others argued the government directive violated a 2007 property law. The housing ministry spokesman said Sunday’s State Council directive only laid out general guidelines. READ MORE: Grave business: undertakers vie for title of China’s most skilled handler of the dead Local governments would need to come up with detailed plans for implementation and the public “will definitely be consulted then”, the spokesman said. All provincial and city governments would be cautious in “dealing with all kinds of interests involved, according to law”, the spokesman said. News website Xinmin.cn quoted Tongji University vice-president Wu Zhiqiang, as saying “gated residential compounds” referred only to large-scale government compounds in the country’s north and some major residential areas in southern provinces that disrupted traffic. It did not refer to the usual kind of residential compound, said Wu, who was also the chief architect for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Some government compounds have expanded to cover areas as much as 5 square kilometres, becoming mini cities. There were few such large-scale compounds in Shanghai, therefore there was no such need to “tear down the walls”, Wu was quoted as saying.