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Tokoiti Primary School principal Shannon McDougall contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday to highlight what he said were "inconsistencies" in the Clutha District Council’s approach to handling disputes about road reserve ownership on private land.
He said his interest was piqued when he read a story in Tuesday’s ODT about Waitahuna West farmer Dave Shaw’s long-running dispute with the council.
Mr Shaw has an undesignated public road running across his property (Crookburn Rd), which he wants the council to buy.
Mr McDougall drew parallels with a situation the school found itself in in 2019, when he said the "tables were turned".
"We received a letter out of the blue in which the council said we had to pay for road reserve [Toko Mouth Rd] on to which school buildings had ‘encroached’.
"Turns out the surveying hadn’t been done properly way back when, and the paper road actually ... cut right through a classroom, which has been there since 1975.
"Initially I suggested we’d be happy to pay 1850s prices for the land ... but they weren’t keen."
Eventually the Ministry of Education stepped in and paid for a 2400sqm parcel of land already occupied by the school, at a cost of just over $10,000.
"We didn’t want the ministry to pay as we believed it was a matter of principle, and we didn’t like the way it had been approached by council.
"It just seems now [in Waitahuna West] when the tables are turned, the council is a bit reluctant to pay up, too."
However, Clutha District Council service delivery group manager Jules Witt said the two situations were not comparable.
"This [Tokoiti] was actually a tidying up of land ownership following a council decision to stop the paper road in 2016."
Although on private land, Crookburn Rd had become a public road by virtue of a legal precedent called "implied dedication at common law".
"We’ve been ongoing in making offers to Mr Shaw, and we’ll reiterate that position to his representatives again shortly."