Stoush over RSA site sale

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Locally owned . . . Mervyn Tyree, left, Norm Verity, Helen Risk Henderson and Noel Dellow say the people of Timaru and South Canterbury paid for the SCRSA. PHOTO:CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

A group of RSA members is hoping the Timaru District Council will step in and buy the South Canterbury RSA in Wai-iti Rd, although the group has a battle on its hands.

Noel Dellow (90), Norm Verity (92), Helen Risk Henderson (73) and Mervyn Tyree (80) want the buildings and land retained as a memorial with memorabilia displayed and the site perhaps used as a convention centre.

However, SCRSA president Lee Johns said this would not happen.

“We’ve been told the council will not be buying the land and building.”

The RSA property in Wai-iti Rd

Timaru Mayor Damon Odey was unavailable for comment.

Council communications manager Stephen Doran said it had not received any approaches from the RSA regarding the site.

“It would be inappropriate for us to make any speculative comment.”

Mrs Johns said the executive committee had done extensive research and the dire state of the financial accounts meant it was necessary to sell.

The SCRSA’s annual meeting voted to place the premises and land on the market.

“It’s ill-informed opinion to think we can sell and stay or sell part of it and stay,” Mrs Johns said.

Mr Dellow and Mr Verity, both sons of World War 1 veterans, disagree.

“We want the public of Timaru, and South Canterbury, to understand that it all belongs to them,” Mr Dellow said.

Site history

A grand house known as Beverley was built on the site of the present South Canterbury RSA in the 1860s.

For many years it was considered the showpiece of Timaru.

By the 1950s the house had become a a war veterans’ home.

In the 1970s the home was demolished to make way for the existing RSA premises, which were opened on April 30, 1975.

Additions have been made over the years.

“The citizens of South Canterbury funded the purchase of the land and cost of buildings on the understanding it would remain in perpetuity as a dedicated memorial of all those who gave their lives and served.”

Mr Dellow’s father, Harold Dellow, suffered from shrapnel wounds and gassed lungs when serving in the frontline in France and the RSA provided his family with essential support during the Depression years and beyond.

Mr Dellow said he attended meetings of the RSA when the purchase of the land and buildings was being decided.

His accountancy partner, Noel Keeley, played a leading role in this work.

“The emphasis was this building and land were for the returned soldiers of South Canterbury and to be a South Canterbury memorial in perpetuity.”

Mrs Johns said it was not the people of South Canterbury but the SCRSA that was the owner and it was for the SCRSA to decide.

Mr Dellow said the land and buildings had a government valuation of $2.8million. Mrs Johns disputed this, saying the latest valuation was between $1.6million and $1.8million.

She said the the only real value was in the land.

“The building is no longer suitable – the roof has a problem. It’s not up to scratch and no-one wants to buy it as a going concern.”

Two “attractive offers” to buy had been received.

“We have to get the best for our members and they will decide. We have to future-proof the RSA.”

Mr Dellow said he was preparing a financial proposal for the council to consider.