Free entry to garden mooted

The gates to the Dunedin Chinese Garden could soon be thrown open, as part of a new scheme offering Dunedin ratepayers free access to the city's cultural attractions while tourists are required to pay.

The Dunedin City Council yesterday confirmed it was considering offering ratepayers free access to the garden, bringing it into line with the city's other council-owned cultural assets.

At the same time, admission charges for the same attractions could be introduced for all non-ratepayers, including overseas tourists. Council city strategy and development general manager Sue Bidrose told yesterday's council pre-draft budget meeting non-council attractions, such as Olveston and Otago Museum, could be invited to join.

''I could see this becoming a fairly inclusive thing, in time,'' she told councillors.

The change would acknowledge that residents already contributed to the cost of the garden through their rates bills, she said.

Council staff had begun investigating a scheme for other council cultural attractions and decided to include the garden after suggestions from councillors during this week's non-public budget workshop.

A report by garden manager Margo Reid - made public earlier this week - outlined changes to lift the garden's financial performance and minimise the cost to ratepayers, but made no mention of cutting entry fees.

However, an updated report presented yesterday included the possibility of free access for ratepayers. Dr Bidrose said the new approach to cultural facilities would be investigated over the next few months, but work would not be completed in time for the coming financial year's budget.

It was agreed council staff would continue working on changes to the garden's management, including a merger with Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

Staff would also investigate whether the repayment of a $1 million ''gift'' from the council could be switched to a more appropriate council budget, and other changes.

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