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
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.