Ohai Railway quandary

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    John Eaves of Nightcaps (left), Alanna Barrett of Ohai and Mark Bailey of Nightcaps discuss what may happen to the Ohai Railway Board premises at Wairio.

    THE Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot have been given a Category 1 listing by Heritage New Zealand, but exactly who, if anyone, will restore and preserve the buildings in Wairio is less than clear.

    KiwiRail said they owned the land, but the Southland District Council (SDC) was responsible for the buildings. The council said it was only responsible for the rolling stock and KiwiRail should answer questions about the building’s future.

    At the same time, a group of rail enthusiasts has expressed discontent that the historical buildings were falling into disrepair.

    KiwiRail’s general manager for Strategic Land Use Stephanie Campbell admitted it owned the land.

    “This land is owned by KiwiRail, but two buildings which contain rolling stock are occupied by SDC. “Inquiries about activities on the land should be directed to it.” She said the rolling stock was owned by the council.

    SDC community partnership leader Kelly Tagg pointed the finger back at KiwiRail.

    “Council does not own the premises at Wairio, they are owned by KiwiRail. You would be best placed to contact them regarding the Category 1 Listing Status.”

    She said earthworks had been carried out to allow for the removal of the rolling stock in the two buildings which was being leased to “a third party” by SDC.

    “The stock has been removed and the ground has been made good again,” she said.

    The Category 1 listing in December came about after Alanna Barrett, of Ohai, submitted the council’s own 2001 feasibility study to preserve the buildings to HeritageNZ.

    The December 1993 minutes of a full meeting of the Ohai Railway Funding Committee, made up of seven Southland District councillors, including long-time former mayor Frana Cardno, show it was decided “the former Ohai Railway Board’s equipment and machinery currently located at Wairio be retained and that a museum-type facility be investigated with approaches to be made to the Historic Places Trust (now HeritageNZ)”.

    That appears to have never happened.

    The Wairio to Ohai line was the only private railway built under the 1914 Local Railways Act.

    According to HeritageNZ’s “List Entry Report for a Historic Place, List No. 9715” it had special value as it was one of only two financially successful privately-operated lines in the country.

    It was also the longest running passenger and coal transport private line in New Zealand. “The Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot form a rare set of railway structures, dating from around 1882 to 1947. They stand as a testament to a community.” A HeritageNZ spokesman said the organisation had “worked with the owners throughout the whole nomination process, so they were aware at every stage of the Listing process.” He did not name the owner it had worked with.

    He said a Category 1 listing “does not provide any legal protection to places” unless it was an archaeological or originated from before 1900.

    John Eaves, of Nightcaps, who was issued with a trespass order by KiwiRail in 2013 when he tried to keep up the buildings and property with two friends, said he was not happy nothing was being done to preserve the buildings.

    “Right there, all that stuff should have stayed there because that’s where the history lies. I just don’t know why they seem to want to get rid of it.”

    Not all residents were as keen as the rail enthusiasts with one resident, who lived in a house opposite the depot and did not want to be named, describing the buildings as an “eyesore”. “You know they’re never going to fix it… and I have to live next to it.”

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