25 Jun 2017

Access issues force redesign of Chch justice precinct

10:37 am on 25 June 2017

Designers of Christchurch's new $300 million justice precinct have had to redesign some of its doors, after it was found police vans did not have space to turn around.

The Justice and Emergency Precinct, Christchurch seen from the air in October 2016.

The partly-built precinct seen from the air in October 2016. Photo: Ministry of Justice

The facility, overseen by the Ministry of Justice, is one of the city's anchor projects, and will house the courts, emergency services and Civil Defence, in the central city.

The Ministry of Justice has repeatedly said the building would be open by mid-2017, but after three years of construction the precinct remains uncompleted.

A person who contacted RNZ and who wanted to remain anonymous, revealed there had been problems with police prisoner transport vans, due to the building's design.

RNZ put this claim to the Ministry of Justice, and after delaying a response for almost a week, a spokesperson said they were not aware of any problems.

However, a police spokesperson said there were problems with access for large prison vans, which were unable to turn around in the precinct.

"The original design provided for two sally port doors, but this was found to restrict the space available for vehicles to turn," the police spokesperson said.

They said access doors had to be redesigned so the prison vans could access the facility.

"We have conducted testing in relation to size and access, and we are satisfied there will be no issues at the new facility," the spokesperson said.

RNZ has repeatedly asked the Ministry of Justice for an interview, but they have refused.

A spokesperson for the Justice Minister, Amy Adams, said any design issues were an operational matter, and referred all questions to the Ministry of Justice.

Both the fire department and St John also referred all questions to the Ministry of Justice.

Lawyer and Labour's Christchurch Central candidate, Duncan Webb, said there were also proposals that would reduce security for the courts.

Mr Webb said it would be possible that only the high courts, or other major trials, would have security screening, although at the old court house everyone was screened on entry.

"There is stand-off between court staff who want universal screening, and the Ministry of Justice, who want it on a court-by-court basis," he said.

The precinct is now expected to be completed by the end of August, but the Ministry of Justice would not say when the building would be operational for day-to-day use.

Treasury losing confidence in project

Confirmation of these design problems came in the same week a Treasury report said it was losing confidence that the justice precinct would be completed on schedule.

In its latest Interim Major Projects Report, the Treasury downgraded the project into a third tier of building projects, which, according to the report, "appear feasible, but significant issues already exist."

A Treasury spokesperson, Ricky Utting, said the downgrade was due to a delay with the initial hand-over date, which was in February this year.

He said the new hand-over dates, the end of June, were also under pressure.

"The contractor and key government departments are ... deploying additional site workers to meet the revised completion date," said Mr Utting.

He said the Ministry of Justice's chief executive was now involved, and getting frequent updates from contractors.

Lack of heritage in new design "shameful"

The justice precinct has attracted controversy in the past.

High profile Christchurch Queen's Counsel, Nigel Hampton, launched a petition last year to include the high court dais into the new design, gaining 1177 signatures.

Nigel Hampton said the Ministry of Justice was disrespecting the court's 150-year-old history by not including traditional court furniture and art in the new complex.

It has since found a home at the Canterbury Museum.

Mr Hampton said the Minster of Justice, Amy Adams, refused to meet with him, saying it was an operational matter for the ministry.

He also asked if the eight oil paintings of court justices, brass commemorative plaques for the fallen lawyers from the World Wars, as well as other artworks could be incorporated into the precinct.

"[These were] gifted and entrusted to the Ministry of Justice to be hung upon and to grace the walls of the High Court in Christchurch," said Mr Hampton.

But he was told by the Ministry of Justice there was "simply insufficient wall space".

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs