Gloriavale pushes to close road used by locals

Gloriavale pushes to close road used by locals

It was recently revealed West Coast Christian community Gloriavale is being investigated by the Department of Internal Affairs over its charity status.

That's partly because last year alone, the commune's many companies provided a gross income of more than $5 million.

They made a decent profit too and didn't pay their workers a cent because they're all volunteers.

One of its companies is charging wealthy Americans up to $20,000 to go hunting, much of it on public land – land that might soon not be publicly accessible by competing local hunters.

Fish & Game has called in the lawyers because it says the Christian community is trying to shut local hunters out.

But men like Fervent Stedfast are now trying to keep the public even further away.

Gloriavale has applied to the Grey District Council to gate and lock two kilometres of public road that leads to their property. It's also the same access point to a road that used to provide access to mountains.

Adding to the problem is that the old stretch of road set aside in 1933 was never formalised in law, so it's a private road – access is at Gloriavale's complete discretion.

Once they've said no, crossing their land would be trespassing.

The council sees no merit in any of the objections and says that it is "a road to nowhere" and that the decision will be ratified in Environment Court.

The locals are fuming.

With the coal price tanking and unemployment growing, local gold miner Alan Birchfield says the coast must diversify.

Mr Birchfield says there's a prime opportunity with historic old hot pools up the valley, but they are now all locked up. He even offered a compromise, by moving the road away from the commune, but they said no.

He says that makes him think Gloriavale's claim that locking the road to keep vandals out is a joke and that a darker motive is in play – "to keep their people from leaving and keeping the public out".

The Department of Conservation has even tried to negotiate, and has asked for space for a carpark for hikers. But Dean Kelly, who has been privy to some of the negotiations, says they've refused to sign any legally binding easement.

"There is nothing protecting it for the future," says Mr Kelly. "It just takes one person to do something wrong or a change of their policy and they'll be able to stop everyone coming up this valley."

Mr Kelly says this is shameful behaviour from a community that enjoys charity status but refuses to be charitable towards those just wanting to enjoy the mountains.

Police are still investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Gloriavale and want to hear from former residents.

An 0800 number has been set up, and if this applies to you call 0800 400 800.

It is understood police have been contacted by a large number of people.