There are plans afoot for Oamaru’s stagnant North Otago Returned and Services Association building.

For almost six years, the RSA building has remained empty – but that could soon change as the Waitaki District Council is making moves to amend a restrictive Act of Parliament.

The council has owned the 1951 building since 2015, when the North Otago RSA went into liquidation, vesting it to the council.

Since then, the council has hit roadblock after roadblock.

In 2015, plans to use the space for the North Otago Toy Library were halted when asbestos was discovered in the building.

In February 2017, the council voted to support a $4 million redevelopment of the Itchen St building for a 10-year commercial lease to Trustpower, but the following month the Oamaru Town Hall and Gasworks Sites and Recreation Reserves Act 1875 was uncovered, which contained an absolute prohibition on leasing the RSA land. That brought an end to negotiations with Trustpower, which instead moved into a new purpose-built premises in Severn St this year.

Waitaki District Council property manager Renee Julius said the the 19th-century Act of Parliament was very restrictive as to what activity could be undertaken on site and the council was not considering possible uses for the building at this stage.

“It is unlikely, without a change to the Act, that council could tenant the building”, Mrs Julius said.

The council was working towards amending the Act, and was in the drafting phase which was not yet finalised, she said.

The amendment to the land status was a very complex process and required negotiations with several government departments, as well as a community consultation process, she said.

This made it very difficult to give any clear timeframe as it required Parliament to effect the change and would depend on what other legislation was being proposed at the time, she said.

This unclear timeframe has led the steering group leading a project to establish a multipurpose community hub in Oamaru to look elsewhere.

Community House Trust chairman Dick Cottier said the RSA site would be ideal for a community hub to house community services as Community House in Thames St was no longer fit for purpose, but the steering committee had to look at alternative sites because no-one knew how long it would take for the Act to change.

At present, Community House in lower Thames St is used by about 18 groups and organisations. Discussion about moving started five years ago and there was a pressing need as the 1882 category 2 heritage building was no longer suitable and a lot of money was being spent on its up-keep, Mr Cottier said.

Wherever the new location was, the steering group wanted it to be a multipurpose community hub with meeting rooms, offices, and spaces for youth and older people.

Last year, the steering group received a $75,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed community hub. The results of that study would soon be complete, he said.