Kaikoura church graves out of bounds

EMMA DANGERFIELD
Last updated 12:58 25/01/2012
Graves
FAIRFAX NZ

ACCESS ISSUE: St James' Church in Kaikoura was sold to private buyer Yvonne Maher last year. Relatives of those buried there say they are now being denied access to the graves.

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Relatives are being denied access to their loved ones' graves after the sale of a deconsecrated Kaikoura church.

St James' Church in Red Swamp Rd was sold last year to private buyer Yvonne Maher. Conditions of the sale included providing public access to the graves.

However, relatives of those buried on church grounds say Maher is ignoring these conditions.

Maher said public access was an insurance issue. She has installed padlocked gates and erected signs to keep people out.

Until her insurance was sorted out, she said, people could contact her for access.

Nina Fischer, who visited Kaikoura from Greymouth two weeks ago, decided to visit her whanau in the cemetery.

At the church she was confronted by two farm gates secured with padlocks, and signs warning there was no public access.

"At first I thought I had the wrong place," she said.

"One of the neighbours said she does let people jump the fence, so I went round [to the rear of the property] and did that."

However, she felt having to gain access this way did nothing to assure the public they had the right to be there.

Maher said public access was an insurance issue.

Because of the Canterbury earthquakes, she said, she was able to get insurance only from the United States, and the site was not covered for public access.

Maher said she knew people wanted to visit the graves, but without public liability insurance she was not prepared to allow people to "wander all over the site".

She had found people in the church, which was not a public area.

"If people come and ask, I do let them in," she said. "But only when I am here."

Maher said she was working with the Historic Places Trust and the Kaikoura District Council to change her consent to allow renovations to begin so she could live in the church.

She had no idea how long that would take. An easement would then be fenced off to allow public access to the graves.

Until then, people could contact her if they wanted to get in.

"The graves are in better condition now than they have ever been," she said.

"We even found some graves when we were clearing up. Now it's been sold, people suddenly decide they want to come in ... The whole block is mine. It's not just open slather that they can come in."

Maher said most residents who wanted to find her were able to. She did not say how those from outside the area would be able to contact her.

Conditions outlined in the sale agreement allow public access along a designated pathway between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or at other times with specific permission.

Legally, the only body that can enforce the conditions is the Nelson Diocesan Trust Board, which sold the property to Maher.

The board said civil action would be the correct course of action.

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