High Court to rule on hall ownership

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 23/09/2011

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The Invercargill City Council is seeking a High Court judgment so it can finally transfer ownership of the Scottish Hall to a trust that wants to reopen it for community events.

Council chief executive Richard King said the hall in Esk St was currently in the trust of the council, but discussions about transferring its ownership to the Southland Scottish Hall Community Trust had found no resolution.

"It's extremely complicated. We don't want to hand it over to the trust and find it's back on our plate in 20 years time."

The council would ask the High Court to determine the exact parameters around the Southland Scottish Hall Community Trust if it were to take the hall over, he said. "By doing that we want to make sure our involvement with the hall ceases."

Scottish Society members last month expressed frustration that the city council still had not handed over the hall's ownership, four years after the community saved the historically significant building from demolition.

In 2007 the council decided to demolish the Scottish Hall, claiming it needed $1 million in renovations, but thousands of people signed a petition opposing its closure.

An agreement was subsequently reached in early 2008 that the council would transfer the hall's ownership to the Scottish Hall Community Trust, which was set up as a legal entity and charitable trust.

Scottish Hall Community Trust trustee Janet Robertshawe said yesterday she believed it was a good idea for the council to ask the High Court to make a declaratory judgment about the 50-year-old Scottish Hall.

Because of the confusing legal aspects in the case, the council's application to the High Court for a declaratory judgment would determine whether or not the council could transfer the hall to the trust, and on what terms, she said.

She expected the issue to be resolved in several months, so the new owners could re-open the hall for public events.

If and when ownership is transferred, the council would provide the trust with a financial grant, understood to be about $60,000, so basic maintenance could be carried out before the hall was reopened.

SCOTTISH HALL TIMELINE

March 2007: The Invercargill City Council proposes to close the 50-year-old Scottish Hall by the end of the year because of spiralling maintenance costs and decreasing patronage.

April 2007: A public meeting is held about the council's proposal to close the Scottish Hall and a petition launched to save it from demolition.

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May 2007: Scottish Hall campaigners present Mayor Tim Shadbolt with a 6000-signature petition asking for the hall to be retained. The mayor backs its retention.

June 2007: The council gives the Scottish Hall a stay of execution, voting unanimously to actively promote the formation of a trust to manage and maintain the hall.

February 2008: The New Zealand Historic Places Trust deems the Scottish Hall building to be a meeting place of historical, cultural, architectural and social significance.

July 2008: The newly established Southland Scottish Hall Charitable Trust convinces the council to drop its proposal to demolish the hall and instead transfer ownership to the trust.

August 2011: Trustees of the Scottish Hall express frustration the council still has not handed over ownership of the hall to the trust.

September 2011: Council chief executive Richard King says it will seek a High Court judgment to ensure the hall ceases to be the council's problem after it is handed to the trust.

- The Southland Times

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