7 Mar 2014

Nelson locals challenge centre's closure

9:31 am on 7 March 2014

The closure of Nelson's main entertainment venue, shut due to earthquake fears, has been challenged at a city council meeting.

Residents have told the council they want the centre reopened as soon as possible.

Nelson's Trafalgar Centre was closed suddenly last December, due to fears it would not withstand a serious earthquake.

At the time Mayor Rachel Reese said the council was told there was a high risk people would die if the Trafalgar Centre was in use during a moderate earthquake.

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But local property developer Gaire Thompson told the council he believes the risk is worth taking and people are more likely to be killed or hurt on the roads, playing sport or drowning.

"You know there are numerous occasions when people are going to get hurt or killed but there is a certain element of risk that people have to accept whatever they are doing."

In response, Councillor Luke Acland queried if Mr Thompson thought his council should take heed of the legal and engineering advice which had clearly recommended closure.

Mayor Rachel Reese told the meeting the council was not in an easy position but was facing the same dilemma as many organisations throughout New Zealand in the light of the Canterbury earthquakes.

For now, events scheduled for the Trafalgar Centre have been moved, most frequently to the Saxton Stadium, a sports venue between Nelson and Richmond.

But Saxton Stadium Society chair Roger Ledingham said the stadium was never meant to be taken over in this way.

"If I were to make a comment about the Trafalgar Centre it would be extremely obvious. That the sooner the damn thing is open or replaced, the better."

One of the issues which has angered local residents is that the centre, which was built in the 1970s, received a $7 million upgrade, completed just five years ago.

Many argue this was a waste of ratepayers' money if the building is permanently shut down.

But, in the meeting on Thursday, the council confirmed the southern end upgrade was built to the correct building standards appropriate at that time.

The public, and media, were asked to leave the chambers for the council's full debate on the future of the centre.

Nelson resident Ken Beckett questioned this decision saying it smacked of 'trust us we know what we're doing'.

"In my view, it is time that you let people see the agenda material, the engineering reports, the legal advice, and let them judge for themselves whether you had no choice, and whether you made the right decision."

The mayor responded to his comments by saying part of the reason the discussions have been confidential was to maintain legal professional privilege.

Ms Reese added detailed engineering reports had already been released to the public.

A final decision is expected to be announced shortly.