MP welcomes end of `porta-court’ era

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Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean has welcomed an announcement that court services in Oamaru will return to the town’s historic courthouse from the “porta-court”, where she described working conditions as “appalling”.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Amy Adams confirmed an agreement had been reached with the Waitaki District Council that will lead to the restoration and reopening of the 132-year-old Thames St building.
The courthouse was closed in November 2011 after a report found the building did not meet minimum strength and safety standards.
Court services were initially moved to Timaru before being moved to the Oamaru Opera House in March 2012.
In August 2014, services were again moved, to a “porta-court” borrowed from Christchurch and installed at the Oamaru Licensing Trust car park in Humber St.
Ownership of the historic courthouse will be transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the council, which will carry out earthquake-strengthening work on the building as well as other minor refurbishments.
The Ministry will then lease it from the council.
As part of the agreement, the council will have access to the building outside court sitting hours for council-related activities, such as public meetings and civil defence and emergency situations.
Mrs Dean said the announcement was the culmination of several years of hard work by many people.
“It’s very pleasing and it’s the result I have been working towards for some time, more than three years now, so it’s very welcome news.
“I think that this announcement … is a significant win for all of those people who have been involved in restoring court services in the historic courthouse.”She praised the efforts of Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, who has worked on the issue since he was elected mayor in late 2013, and Oamaru lawyer Bill Dean, Mrs Dean’s husband, who commissioned an independent report that put the cost of strengthening the courthouse at $350,000, well below the Ministry’s estimate of up to $2 million.
Mrs Dean said she was never in favour of the temporary courthouse, which will be removed.
“The porta-court was not very adequate for Oamaru, for the staff, for the police, for the legal fraternity and the bench. “The work conditions were appalling.”She was confident court services would return to the historic courthouse by the end of 2016 as planned.
“That’s the intention and I understand that planning for that to happen is pretty well in hand. “The council and the Ministry have been working pretty close for many months now, so I’m confident that timeframe will come to pass.”The final details of the agreement between the Ministry and the council are being worked through, while strengthening work, to at least 67% of the building code, is expected to take nine to 12 months to complete.