Intellectually disabled residents from Levin's Kimberley Centre will be resettled in communities throughout the country under the Government's four-year closure plan.

Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson announced yesterday that Kimberley, the country's last big centre for people with severe intellectual disabilities, would close, ending 10 years of uncertainty.

The Government and the Health Ministry would resettle all 375 residents into the community over the next four years, she said.

Residents would be spread around the country and planning for the resettlement - expected to take place between next June and March 2005 - will take place over the next eight months.

The move will cost the equivalent of about 378 fulltime jobs and will take about $21 million from the local economy.

It has left the Levin community uncertain of its future and prompted a warning that Horowhenua Hospital might also be threatened.

Ms Dyson said the decision was a positive outcome for Kimberley's residents.

"Caring for people with disabilities in large institutions is no longer appropriate," she said.

"The Kimberley residents have the right to live in the community like everyone else with the necessary support to meet their personal, medical and social needs."

Past resettlements of severely intellectually disabled people from institutions into communities were not always well planned, Ms Dyson said, but she was determined this would not happen with Kimberley.

"No residents will leave Kimberley until appropriate support is in place. We will provide 24-hour care as well as a range of specialist services for those who need them."

Over the next four years, residents would be resettled into a range of community-based residential accommodation around the country, depending on their individual wishes and needs.

Each residential site would provide 24-hour care and support. Some existing houses might be bought and used, new houses might be built and cluster housing (groups of houses together with staff on-site) might also be an option.

MidCentral District Health Board would establish a workforce development group to oversee the future of Kimberley's staff. Retention of skilled and competent staff was a key factor.

IHC welcomed the closure announcement .

"This is the last large institution for people with intellectual disabilities, and we're pleased that it is, at last, closing," chief executive Jan Dowland said.

Research had shown that people who had moved out of other institutions led richer and fuller lives.

The Kimberley Parents and Friends Association president, Anne Bell, of Lower Hutt, whose sister lives at the centre, said the days of large institutions were over.

She had seen purpose-built clustered housing at Mangere and Weymouth in Auckland "and I felt I had gone to the promised land".

PSA organiser John Shennan said staff had hoped Kimberley would only partially closed.

Robert Martin, a Kimberley resident in the 1960s, and spokesman for the People First group which had planned a march on Parliament if the centre was not closed, welcomed the decision.

The march would still go ahead tomorrow as a march of thanks.

Retailer group Go Levin's chairman, Bernie Wanden, said it was premature to forecast how Kimberley's impending closure would affect Levin and Horowhenua .

"Until we know what MidCentral District Health Board's plans are and have a detailed timetable for the long-term future of residents, it's difficult to say how the closure will affect the town.

"Of course, any winding-down that means jobs or services are lost will affect the economic well-being of Levin."

National's health spokesman, Roger Sowry, said closing Kimberley could also mean the end of Horowhenua Hospital.

It would be a tragedy if the high level of nursing care at Kimberley was lost to the district because residents moved elsewhere, he said.

"There are groups of patients at Kimberley that need high levels of care round the clock.

"Those people should have new facilities for them built on the Horowhenua Hospital site."

If the Government built those services at Palmerston North, "I believe that will be the end of Horowhenua Hospital", he said.

The Government was being coy about where residents would live, and he warned that might mean Horowhenua could lose economically.