Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Oamaru Court House

For the past year or so, Oamaru's Courthouse has been closed while an on-going debate has been going on about its structural strength. At the heart of the issue is the Ministry of Courts' contention that it will be $4-5m to get it up to a suitable standard. This compares with local estimates of $3-400k. In the meantime, court hearings have been held at the Opera House which h...as been less than ideal because the general public are put off going into the OH as it often requires them to run a gauntlet of smoking loiterers on the front steps. Whether justified or not, for many people, it's just too intimidating.

So - where do we go from here? We need to put pressure on the Minister and the ministry to get on and make a decision which suits OUR community. The Minister of Courts, Chester Borrows, has already given a commitment that we will keep hearings in Oamaru.

The rest of the community has done its part to retain our heritage buildings. This council, on behalf of the public, has a number of heritage buildings which have been renovated/restored/rejuvenated over the years. The Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust has also done the same for many of its buildings on behalf of the community. Private landlords have been doing it with buildings such as the new Italian restaurant, Steam, the old Omru Blue shop and Rabobank to name a few. But what is central government doing to protect our heritage? We now need a commitment that the Ministry will get their building strengthened and operating again.

I'm prepared to help them further than that if they won't decide to upgrade the building themselves. If elected, I'll be in a position to do what I can to find a solution. One option is to facilitate a possible purchase by a trust (such as the Whitestone Civic Trust) to take over the building for a nominal amount. $1 seems like a win/win! The Ministry would sign a lease-back agreement which specifies that they will move back into the building once it is up to standard and will pay a market rental for a suitably long period of time. This would allow the trust to fundraise and/or borrow money to get the work done and have the guarantee of funding going forward.

This would be a win for all concerned: the community gets one of its important buildings upgraded and keeps its hearings in an appropriate location; the Ministry gets a strengthen building without the liability of doing it up; and the OWCT gets another key building in its portfolio which will have a solid tenant. It's time to get this issue moving forward!

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