Deteriorating railway buildings a worry

John Eaves, Alanna Barrett and Mark Bailey discuss what will happen to the Ohai Railway Board...
John Eaves, Alanna Barrett and Mark Bailey discuss what will happen to the Ohai Railway Board premises.
Signs indicate its heritage status.
Signs indicate its heritage status.
Until last week ago this plough wagon was housed in the Ohai Railway Board premises in Wairio. ...
Until last week ago this plough wagon was housed in the Ohai Railway Board premises in Wairio. PHOTOS: GIORDANO STOLLEY & SUPPLIED

Historic railway buildings in the little town of Wairio have being given a Category 1 listing by Heritage New Zealand, but neither KiwiRail nor the Southland District Council say they are responsible for the buildings.

At the same time a group of rail enthusiasts has expressed discontent that the former Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot are falling into disrepair and not being preserved.

The buildings were listed last December and KiwiRail General Manager for Strategic Land Use Stephanie Campbell admitted KiwiRail owned the land, but said despite that, KiwiRail was not in control of the buildings.

"This land is owned by KiwiRail, but two buildings which contain rolling stock are occupied by the Southland District Council. Inquiries about activities on the land should be directed to it.'' She said the rolling stock was owned by the council.

SDC Community Partnership Leader Kelly Tagg pointed the finger back at KiwiRail.

"Council does not own the premises at Wairio - they are owned by KiwiRail. You would be best placed to contact them regarding the Category 1 Listing Status.''

She said earthworks had been carried out in a bid to remove the rolling stock in the two buildings which was being leased to "a third party'' by the council.

"The stock has been removed and the ground has been made good again. Council completed an RFP (Request for Proposals) process in 2016 and selected four different organisations who would be able to lease the rolling stock from council.''

The Category 1 listing came about after local resident Alanna Barrett submitted the council's own 2001 feasibility study to preserve the buildings to HeritageNZ. The council has so far never acted on its own study recommending the preservation of the buildings.

The December 1993 minutes of a full meeting of the Ohai Railway Funding Committee, made up of seven Southland District Councillors, including long-time former mayor Frana Cardno, show it was decided that "the former Ohai Railway Board's equipment and machinery currently located at Wairio be retained and that a museum-type facility be investigated with approaches to be made to the Historic Places Trust (now HeritageNZ).''

The Wairio to Ohai line was the only private railway built under the 1914 Local Railways Act. According to HeritageNZ's "List Entry Report for a Historic Place, List No. 9715'' it has special value as it was one of only two financially successful privately operated lines in the country. It was also the longest running passenger and coal transport private line in New Zealand.

"The Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot form a rare set of railway structures, dating from around 1882 to 1947. They stand as a testament to a community.''

A HeritageNZ spokesman said the organisation had "worked with the owners throughout the whole nomination process, so they were aware at every stage of the Listing process.''

He said a Category 1 listing "does not provide any legal protection to places'' unless it is an archaeological or originates from before 1900.

John Eaves, a local resident from Nightcaps, who was issued with a trespass order by KiwiRail in 2013 when he tried to do upkeep on the buildings and property with two friends, said he was not happy that nothing was being done to preserve the buildings.

"Right there, all that stuff should have stayed there because that's where the history lies. I just don't know why they seem to want to get rid of it.''

Not all residents are as keen as the rail enthusiasts. One who lives in a house opposite the depot and did not want to be named, said: "You know they're never going to fix it.

"Now its just an eyesore and I have to live next to it.''


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