Ministry to quit courthouse

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The Oamaru District Courthouse will be transferred to Land Information New Zealand for management disposal, as the cost of strengthening is too high for the Ministry of Justice, Courts Minister Chester Borrows announced yesterday.

Court hearings have been operating in the Oamaru Opera House after the old courthouse, a category one listed building, was closed in 2012 due to earthquake risk.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows said the Ministry of Justice was committed to keeping court services in Oamaru and had made an effort to strengthen the courthouse using the best available options.

“However, the cost of that work, estimated at between $1 million and $2 million, is just too high for a court that’s open for business less than one day each week, on average,” he said.

As a result of this, the courthouse will be transferred to Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) for management and disposal, in line with the requirements of the Public Works Act and the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act.

“The Government has a responsibility to all New Zealanders to spend taxpayer money carefully, and we simply can’t justify the cost when another, more cost-effective option for delivering court services, like the new facility in Humber St, is available,” Mr Borrows said.

LINZ Crown Property Management acting manager John Hook said they were going through the administration processes with the Ministry of Justice to transfer the building.

The actual date was yet to be determined, but it was envisaged to be by June 30, he said.

“Any disposal of land owned by the Crown must meet a number of statutory and government policy requirements, such as the Public Works Act 1981,” Mr Hook said.

“These steps ensure that the interests or legal rights that parties – such as other government agencies, former owners or iwi – may have in the land being disposed of are appropriately addressed.

“The average time to dispose of an area of Crown-owned land is around one to two years – however this can vary due to the different specific matters or circumstances that have to be considered for individual properties.”

Waitaki mayor Gary Kircher said his biggest concern was making sure court services remained in Oamaru and his second concern was ensuring the use of the courthouse.

The council was confident that it would work out, he said.

Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust deputy chairman Phil Hope said they would try to assist in any way possible to keep the building used as a courthouse.

“We want to see the building preserved for the long-term future and we would like to see it used as a courthouse,” he said.

In June, court hearings will shift from the Oamaru Opera House to a new purpose-built court facility on Humber St.

STEPS LINZ NEEDS TO FOLLOW:

Determine if the land is needed for any other public works.

Determine if the land needs to be offered back to the person the Crown originally purchased it from, or their successors.

Offer the land to Māori under a Treaty claim settlement (in this case, Ngai Tahu).

Possibly hold the land for a future settlement

Sell the land on the open market – generally by public tender or listing with a real estate agent.

By RUBY HARFIELD