5 Oct 2012

Courthouse to be reviewed after council challenge

7:28 pm on 5 October 2012

The Courts Minister has called for a fresh report into Oamaru's historic courthouse after the local council said the cost for earthquake strengthening was about 10 times too high.

The stone courthouse in the North Otago town was downgraded to a hearings-only court and put on notice for permanent closure as part of nationwide changes to district courts announced on Wednesday.

An engineering report put the cost of quake strengthening at about $5 million.

But the Waitaki District Council says that figure is unbelievable, as it was recently able to upgrade the much larger Oamaru Opera House next door for about $500,000.

The council says it believes the report by Opus consultants for the Ministry of Justice did not include important local knowledge of the building.

Phil Hope, an Oamaru lawyer and chair of the Whitestone Civic Trust, which runs the town's historic quarter, says the $5 million estimate can't be right - but if it is, it would make worthless just about every building in the main street and in similar towns.

Mr Hope says the cost estimate must be corrected urgently.

Local engineers and leaders describe the figure as off the planet and politically motivated.

But Courts Minister Chester Borrows rejects that, saying he would welcome a much cheaper estimate that would make the courthouse more attractive to upgrade.

Mr Borrows says the engineers have been sent back for a second look.

"When we got a bit of a red flag from people in Oamaru, we went straight back down there and met with them and that's been the subject of ongoing discussions.

"We're hoping we're going to come to something that's got credibility on both sides."