DCC wants access squabble buried

The Dunedin City Council hopes to resolve a disagreement with the Historic  Cemeteries...
The Dunedin City Council hopes to resolve a disagreement with the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand over access to Larnach's Tomb. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

The Dunedin City Council is attempting to unlock a dispute over access to Larnach's Tomb that involves the trust that helped save it.

The Otago Daily Times has been told council staff will next week meet members of the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand in an effort to iron out the disagreement.

The dispute centred on who controlled public access to the tomb in the Northern Cemetery - built by William Larnach in 1881 as a memorial to his first wife - which was restored in 2011 at a cost of $345,000.

The ODT understands locks may have been changed by an unknown party following the completion of the tomb's restoration, and council staff had to change them back before seeking a solution.

Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand chairman Stewart Harvey contacted this week, declined to comment until after trust members met to discuss the issue.

''It's fairly politically charged at the moment.''

Council parks, recreation and aquatics group manager Mick Reece was also reluctant to discuss the dispute before next week's meeting with trust members.

However, he confirmed the trust had ''taken a position'' on public access to the tomb with which the council was not comfortable.

The council had a ''close working relationship'' with the trust, which had made ''huge commitment'' to raise the funds needed for the restoration of the tomb.

''I know the trust is very concerned about the security of that tomb, considering the huge investment that's been made by public subscription to restoring it.

''At the same time, my understanding is we [council] are responsible for that tomb, and have spent quite a bit of ratepayers' money in the past on fixing that.

''I would hope we'll be able to resolve that and carry on having a pretty good relationship.''

The tomb's restoration included the installation of a sophisticated security system, including cameras and locks.

Mr Reece said keys had been distributed to council staff, trust members and security staff, but it was later found the council's did not work.

He could not say whether the locks had been deliberately changed or keys had merely been confused, but council staff then had to change the locks again to reinstate their access rights.

''That clearly wasn't a very good situation, so those locks were changed so they could have access.

''It's a public area and parties like council need to have access to things they own.''

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the tomb remained a ''publicly-owned monument'' for which the council was responsible.

''I would be concerned if any private individual felt that they had authority to overrule council's obvious responsibility in this.''

Mr Cull said he had since been approached last year by the Southern Heritage Trust, headed by Ann Barsby, which wanted to take visitors through the tomb.

Mrs Barsby's trust had expressed ''concerns about not being able to access a public facility'', Mr Cull said.

Mrs Barsby could not be contacted yesterday, but Mr Cull said council staff were working on new protocols to govern public access to the tomb.

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