Hope for Oamaru court; Balclutha to go

Balclutha court house. Photo by Helena de Reus.
Balclutha court house. Photo by Helena de Reus.
Balclutha is set to completely lose its court services, but Oamaru may get another temporary facility while strengthening and ownership options for the town's historic 1883 courthouse are investigated.

Minister of Courts Chester Borrows yesterday announced changes that would close the Balclutha District Court and move its services permanently to Dunedin.

Balclutha District Court has operated from Gore, and more recently Dunedin, after the ministry closed the courthouse in November 2011, citing concerns about earthquake risks.

Mr Borrows said Oamaru court sittings might be held in a portacom court - complete with holding cells - from February while future options were investigated.

The temporary courthouse would be set up on a site in Oamaru yet to be identified and ''be much better for people working in and coming to the court''.

Mr Borrows' first preference is to eventually have court services back in the historic courthouse, but ownership of the building is open to discussion.

Formal closure of the Balclutha District Court is expected to happen early next year.

Another government agency has expressed interest in the Balclutha registry building, which may be leased to or owned by it.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he had been frustrated with the ministry's process from the start.

''There will be thousands of buildings in use across the country that pose no more of a risk than our courthouse.''

Mr Cadogan said the judicial structure in Clutha had been eroded ''step by step''.

''We need, as a district, to be on our guard, making it quite clear that collectively, we will not accept further retrenchment of services to the South.''

Mr Borrows said engineers estimated it would cost more than $600,000 to strengthen the Balclutha courthouse.

The ministry would talk to ''stakeholders'' about the situation, but he expected little change, as the court had operated from Gore and Dunedin for the past two years.

Balclutha and Oamaru courthouses are owned by the ministry, and the Government process for disposing of surplus buildings includes offering iwi first right of refusal.

The Oamaru courthouse was also closed in November 2011 because it was deemed an earthquake risk. Mr Borrows said at the time it would be strengthened within a year.

A report to Mr Borrows estimated it would cost up to $6 million to strengthen the single-storey Oamaru stone building - a cost ridiculed and disputed by the Oamaru community. That is now estimated at $1 million-$2 million after further investigations and reviews.

Since the courthouse closed, court hearings have been held in the Oamaru Opera House's Ink Box, which has not been ideal because of security issues and there being nowhere to hold people in custody.

The portacom court would come from Christchurch, where it was used following the February 2011 earthquakes.

Mr Borrows said the Government needed to consider the long-term future of Oamaru's courthouse.

''Groups like Ngai Tahu, who have a first right of refusal on the building, the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust, and the council may be better positioned than Government to make good use of this historic building,'' he said.

He hoped to be able to confirm by April next year which of the options had the most promise.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher yesterday accepted the temporary portacom as ''a good stop-gap measure'', providing it was ''an interim measure''and Mr Borrows was committed to getting services back in the courthouse.

He supported strengthening the courthouse, but accepted there were options in terms of ownership and other uses for the building by the community.


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