Security concerns have led Environment Canterbury to officially shut its doors to the Ashburton public.
ECan has advised the public that “due to building requirements”, public access to the McNally Street site, and any meetings with staff, will be by appointment only.
Corporate and public transport services director Giles Southwell said issues arose as the Ashburton site is not an office, and was never supposed to operate as one.
“Our Ashburton location on McNally Street is a working depot which has never been formally open to the public.
“Due to this, there are no designated customer advisory or reception kaimahi [staff] based there.”
“[The messaging] is simply to provide restrictions on people walking in off the street unannounced – and by asking them to make an appointment.”
ECan councillor Ian Mackenzie said he believed there was recently an incident involving a member of the public coming onto the site and causing an issue with staff.
A council spokesperson said the change was not caused by an isolated security incident, but a recent test of security procedures.
"We were not happy with our internal findings.
“A review is now underway looking into the long-term office access and security needs of the Ashburton depot.”
All customer queries need to first go through the advisor team which requires ringing the central 0800 phone line.
Southwell said the by-appointment process will “improve our customer service to our ratepayers, ensuring any queries can be handled appropriately and efficiently”.
ECan‘s main office and council chamber is in central Christchurch, and it also has offices in Kaikōura and Timaru.
There are 10 permanent staff working from the Ashburton depot, ranging from rivers, zone delivery, biosecurity/biodiversity, science, and land and management advisors.
Mackenzie said ECan had been in negotiations with the Ashburton District Council around having staff based in Te Whare Whakatere, Ashburton’s new library and civic centre.
Council chief executive Hamish Riach confirmed there had been discussion, “but ultimately they decided they didn’t wish to do so”.
That decision was based on ECan’s Ashburton staff being based in the field or out in the community, Southwell said.
“There was, and still is, no requirement for additional office space not located in the vicinity of depot facilities, as our kaimahi are not office based.”
Riach said there remains some office space for a potential tenant in Te Wharae Whakatere.
“While we have had a number of informal conversations with a range of organisations, we will make this a greater focus in the new year.”
By Jonathan Leask