The Government is being accused of "amalgamation by stealth" after claims that Hawke's Bay police centralisation in Hastings could be followed by a similar move for the region's courts of justice.
Both Napier mayor Bill Dalton and MP Stuart Nash yesterday told a public meeting they had heard "rumours" of a possible centralisation of the courts in Hastings - but, in Mr Dalton's words, "nothing more than that".
But after the meeting, attended by about 200 mainly over-40s in the Napier City Council chambers, Mr Dalton said police Hawke's Bay area commander Inspector Tania Kura "effectively announced" a likely courts move when she told the meeting that police moves, starting with expanding the Hastings police cellblock and closing the cells in Napier, were based on money.
It means arrested people in custody are taken to the Hastings cells and make their first appearance in the Hastings courts. Ms Kura said that under the funding constraints she was having difficulty "covering" the courts in both centres.
"There's no question, Inspector Kura effectively announced that we're going to move to having one courthouse, in Hastings," Mr Dalton said.
Expressing concern at the possible loss of more government services and jobs from Napier, and the impact on its CBD, he told Hawke's Bay Today: "What she said is that this is all about money, not about community interest, and that is what you'd expect of a good government department.
"Here we have another government department (police) trying to achieve amalgamation by stealth," he said. "What they can't do by amalgamation they will do by centralisation. The Government has not an understanding of communities."
The meeting was called over plans for a multi-storey building in Hastings for police and their Eastern District headquarters, and the replacement of the Napier station with a single-storey "satellite" which all-up will cost Napier 94 police jobs.
The headquarters, covering Hawke's Bay and the Gisborne area, had been in leased space in Dalton House, Napier, while the building housing the courts in Napier - the main courts for the region and used for all the region's jury trials and High Court hearings - are understood to also be leased.
Ms Kura said among reasons for centralisation of police in Hastings was that it could all be done on government-owned land.
Both Mr Nash and Mr Dalton addressed the meeting, along with the Sensible Sentencing Trust's Garth McVicar. From the audience, more than 20 people, including at least two retired senior police officers, took the chance to respond or ask questions before Ms Kura replied.
Currently relieving as a district commander outside the area and attending yesterday with relieving Hawke's Bay area commander Inspector Rob Jones, she said the region had been operating "over and above" its allocation of funding, and the decision had been made four years ago that policing in the region had to be restructured.
"I'd love to say I've got 100 extra staff," she said, "but when am I going to get them?"
She said there were risks in police managing prisoners and it was "more efficient to deal with only one courthouse".