Ministry rids itself of Oamaru Courthouse

DANIEL BIRCHFIELD
Last updated 11:42 29/05/2014
oamaru courthouse
FUTURE IN DOUBT: Ownership of Oamaru Courthouse has been transferred to Land Information New Zealand.

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A government decision to transfer ownership of Oamaru Courthouse has been met with surprise in Oamaru.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows announced late last week ownership of the historic building in central Oamaru will be transferred to Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) for management and disposal.

LINZ will consider the disposal of the building, in line with requirements of the Public Works Act (1981) and the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act (1988).

The courthouse, which is listed as a category one building with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, has been closed since 2012 due to earthquake risks.

Since its closure, hearings have taken place at the Oamaru Opera House.

Borrows says the cost of strengthening the courthouse, estimated to be between $1 million and $2m, is considered too expensive for a court that is open less than one day a week on average.

"We are committed to keeping court services in Oamaru and have put real effort into working with both national and local experts to get the best options to strengthen the courthouse to the required standards," he says.

"The Government has a responsibility to all New Zealanders to spend taxpayer money carefully and we simply can't justify the cost when other, more cost-effective options for delivering court services, like the new facility in Humber St, is available."

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says news of the ownership transfer isn't what he expected.

"We were quite surprised to hear that announcement. However, it does fit in with a number of conversations we've been having with the ministry and groups in the community.

"Our focus is that we keep the hearings service here and make sure people get access to justice."

As far as the building itself is concerned, Kircher says a strong focus will go on how exactly it's utilised.

"We need to make sure the courthouse is strengthened and it's able to be used in whatever form, preferably for the benefit of the community. The discussions we've been having up until now have been around how we achieve those goals."

While there's no concrete plans for the courthouse, Kircher says a "general direction" has been agreed upon, however there were "still pieces of the puzzle to be discussed".

When asked if council would consider buying the building, he says council would "consider it" if there was no other option.

Hearings will relocate to a temporary, purpose-built facility, to be based at the Oamaru Licensing Trust car park behind the Brydone Hotel, in June.

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- The Timaru Herald

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