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The handing over of a set of keys today marked the end of a seven year campaign to retain part of the former Queen Mary hospital at Hanmer Springs in public ownership.
The handover by Department of Conservation General Manager, John Cumberpatch, cemented the formal vesting of six hectares of the former hospital site and three of the old buildings with the Hurunui District Council.
Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley described it as a ‘red letter day’ for the district and the people of Hanmer Springs in particular, “who have fought so passionately and so long” to retain the former hospital in public ownership.
“It has been a long and challenging fight but it illustrates what can be achieved when people raise their voices in unison, and we should all be proud, that through our actions this very special piece of the past will now be retained and preserved.”
Queen Mary has played a key role in the lives of many New Zealanders; from its early beginnings in 1897 as a sanatorium, to its role in the rehabilitation of soldiers from the Great War, and later as a successful addiction treatment facility.
In 2003, the Canterbury District Health Board put it on the market, sparking protests and a petition to Parliament calling for the hospital to stay in public ownership.
Over the next five years, the Hurunui District Council, one of the strongest advocates for the site’s retention, engaged in lengthy discussions with a variety of interested parties before the Government agreed, in 2008, with Ngai Tahu support, to vest the site in the Council as an Historic Reserve.
Winton Dalley says the move, cemented today, effectively secures the future of part of the old Queen Mary Hospital in public ownership for present and future generations of New Zealanders.
“Just as the official handover of the keys today signals the end of a lengthy battle that galvanised our community, it also heralds the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the former hospital site, one that promises to ensure Queen Mary continues to play a part in the lives of the people of this district for many more years to come.”
In accepting the keys from the Department of Conservation, Mayor, Winton Dalley, also noted how fitting it was the moment was able to be shared with the community in front of the old Chisholm Ward.
“When this building opened in 1926, it was a state of the art facility specialising in the treatment of women with nervous disorders.
“Over recent weeks, its cracked and faded façade has been repaired and repainted as part of essential refurbishment works – the first step in preparing this grand old lady for a new life.
“It just remains to be seen what that new life may be. That is the challenge now facing the community and in particular a stakeholder group charged with taking into account the public’s views in preparing a management plan to guide the future use of the buildings and garden.”
Apart from commemorating the vesting, November 20th has been a big day for Hanmer Springs for other reasons, with the annual Molesworth Run and the opening of the St James cycleway – the first “Great Ride” to be fully completed under Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail Project.