Scottish Hall legal fees cost $85,000

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014

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The Invercargill City Council spent $85,000 on legal fees relating to the continuing drama surrounding the Scottish Hall.

Council finance and corporate services director Dean Johnston said the council spent "roughly" that amount when it sought a court ruling about what it could do with the Esk St hall.

In 2007 the council decided to demolish the hall, claiming it needed $1 million in renovations, but 6000 people signed a petition opposing its closure.

The council sought a High Court judgment in 2011 to ensure the hall ceased to be its problem after it planned to hand ownership to the Southland Scottish Hall Charitable Trust.

The court said obligations under a 1974 "Deed of Agreement and Trust" could be transferred to new trustees.

However, last month the council changed its mind, wanting to keep the hall because it had suddenly become popular.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said he could have flown to Scotland many times to hunt down "mythical Scottish clans" to give the hall to, but going through the courts was the appropriate way to deal with the "messy" situation.

The council had originally been gifted the hall by the Invercargill Licensing Trust.

"I could have found a clansman somewhere with that [the legal fees] money."

Despite it being expensive, Mr Shadbolt said $85,000 was not a lot compared to how much money the council dealt with each year.

"This is big business. We have a $100 million turnover. We have to accept that these are the sort of costs we incur when we are wrestling with events infrastructure."

He believed ratepayers would "see the bigger picture" and realise what a great asset the hall would be for the community despite the huge legal costs.

"Obviously you make mistakes sometimes and the Scottish Hall would have to be put in that basket."

Mr Shadbolt said he would be very hesitant accepting "a gift" like the Scottish Hall again. "Next time somebody says ‘boy, here's a good gift for you' I will get out the calculator and work it out."

Council chief executive Richard King said the gift had paid off and was an important part of the inner city upgrade plan.

It was necessary to go to court to sort out the hall's future, whether the council kept it or not, he said.

"We had to know exactly what the position was."

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