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Church sale stumbles

MARNIE HALLAHAN
Last updated 07:32 28/02/2013
St Pauls
GRAVE CONCERN: A fresh controversy has arisen with the proposal to subdivide St Paul’s church and dig up historic graves.

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Historic graves may need to be dug up to allow the sale of Devonport's St Paul's Presbyterian Church to an international chess grandmaster.

This is the latest controversy to arise from the Northern Presbytery's decision to sell the 100-year-old church site after congregation numbers began to dwindle in 2011.

Chess grandmaster Murray Chandler hopes to buy the church to create a national chess centre but sensitive issues continue to dog the potential sale.

Long-time St Paul's campaigner Gail Lyons says she believes Mr Chandler's application for approval to buy the church has been turned down by the Ministry of Health.

The Minister of Health's approval of the buyer is a condition of the sale.

And so in a last ditch attempt to see things move forward, vendors Northern Presbytery are proposing to subdivide the land on which the church and hall are standing from the adjoining graveyard.

But a geomagnetic survey of the area has identified four possible unmarked grave pits on or close to the church up a steep bank.

In one location human bones are visible on the surface of the bank, says the report by Archaeology Solution Ltd.

For the subdivision to go ahead these graves will have to be pinpointed and the human remains disinterred and reinterred within the graveyard.

Should the subdivision get the go-ahead the cemetery would be gifted to the council, presbytery lawyer Stewart Milne says.

The proposal will be discussed at a public meeting on April 7 at St Paul's.

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