November 30, 2023

Russell residents concerned over future of iconic police house

Residents are concerned about the future of the Russell police house.

Residents of the historic Bay of Islands settlement of Russell, or Kororareka, fear for the future of the police house and their community police officer.

The home is a Grade One listed building but its roof leaks so much it’s unliveable and residents say if their community police officer leaves it could take hours for help to arrive if anything untoward happens overnight.

In a town brimming with history the police house is for many the jewel in the crown of Russell.

Tourists come from miles around and it’s probably the most photographed building in Northland – if not in New Zealand

Bob Drey, who chairs the Russell Protection Society, is worried the building is being run down. It’s uninhabitable with its wood shingle roof springing multiple leaks.

“It’s primarily a water-tightness issue and our concern is the longer the leakage occurs the more damage is going to occur,” he said.

“This is a category one listed building and it’s beyond us to understand how the police could allow this building to get to that stage.”

The house was built in 1870 in the Gothic revival style by the government’s colonial architect WH Clayton. 

It served for 24 years as a Customs house for one of the main trading ports of New Zealand but as Russell was losing out to Auckland the police took it over in 1894.

Now, 130 years later, the building is surplus to police requirements.

Because it’s a Crown building local hapu must be consulted first about its future.

The police have released a statement saying the community’s view on the disposal is important, particularly that of the hapu, Ngati Manuhiri, Patukeha and Ngati Kuta, who’ve been engaged.

Police are required to follow the process for disposal of the property as set out in the Public Works Act.

And a local constable still resides within the community.

But for how long is the question on everyone’s lips in this close-knit community amid fears their nearest police officer could soon be based as far away as Kerikeri – quite the journey after the last ferry at 10pm.

“It would not only take several hours for the police to get here but when they arrive – and this has been shown – they don’t know where the issues are and who the issues involve and are really not in a position to effectively deal with it,” Drey said.  

And they fear new gangs who’ve recently arrived in Paihia could venture into Russell at night with impunity.

Locals want more consultation with the police but hapu representatives are still deep in negotiations with the Crown.

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