Chch council to blame for killer CTV building collapse - Williamson

Building and construction minister Maurice Williamson

Building and construction minister Maurice Williamson has laid blame on Christchurch city council for the sign-off of the ill-fated CTV building.

"The Crown’s not a player in any of this. The whole of the consenting, the inspections and the sign off take place at local authority level," he says..

"Christchurch city council did the consenting and signed off on that building."

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has acknowledged the council has responsibility for issuing consents, but says the CTV building was approved almost three decades ago.

“It is difficult to ascribe a liability today to an organisation which is vastly different to the one which issued a consent effectively three decades ago.

“It was a different council back then. A different sized council – everything has changed since then – different staff, different processes, different systems,” he told NBR ONLINE.

Mr Williamson says he has passed today’s final report from the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission to the police and the Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ).

He has asked his officials to investigate what possible legal avenues are open to the government to hold people to account.

It is up to IPENZ to determine the future of any industry registrations as a result of the report’s findings.

Mr Parker says while Christchurch is still mourning the loss of the 185 people who died, it is a miracle more people were not killed.

“And that’s probably says a lot about the more recent buildings and the standards we’ve applied.”

The report contains 83 recommendations and concentrates on the collapse of the CTV building.

It says the engineering design of the CTV building was deficient in a number of respects.

While there were elements of the applicable code that were confusing, a building permit should not have been issued for the building as designed.

It also says there were a number of inadequacies in its construction.

Industry was different

Mr Parker says the building industry was different in 1986, when the CTV building was built.

“Now our engineering systems, engineering standards, our understandings are vastly different, our processes in council are vastly different.

"In our case, we’ve been honed by a further two years' direct exposure to seismic violence of an unprecedented level in New Zealand.”

He expects to see changes to the Resource Management Act and building processes, checks and balances as a result of the royal commission’s report.

He is confident Christchurch city and other metropolitan councils already have the processes and systems in place to ensure the buildings which are being constructed meet the engineering standards of today.

Overall, the report found New Zealand was very well served by those who participated in the building safety evaluation operations in Canterbury, but it does not mean the government should not consider making improvements to the system.

Mr Williamson is waiting on a report into other buildings nationwide which were built around the same time as CTV.

He says there is a list of 379 buildings that have been identified.

Those on the list have similar construction materials and techniques to the CTV building. They include unreinforced masonry, an asymmetric shear wall and non-ductile columns.

And until the report, which was due out this month, is released early next year, he will not be revealing the identified buildings.

“Those buildings are no less safe than they were on February 21. Just because they’ve got non-ductile concrete does not make them a risk. If they are found to be at risk, obviously action would be taken.

“You could red sticker the building and issue a not-to-occupy notice if that was the case.”

He says it was a difficult process to identify the buildings because local authority databases are “very poor”.

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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18 Comments & Questions

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Innocent people lose there lives, faults are found, and the non-accountable bureaucrats swing into action.

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Innocent people lost their lives because of two earthquakes. That's the long and short of it, and the full stop. If there were no earthquakes, the CTV building would still be standing. Assigning blame is all to typical of today's society, where everything that happens has to be someone else's fault (and you are trying to assign blame to people who built and consented a building 30 years ago!). These people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's called fate.

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The issue is not one of judging yesterday's actions by today's standards; the standards which existed "yesterday" were not met and there is a range of people and organisations accountable for that. It is entirely proper that, passage of time notwithstanding, they are held to account.

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The whole of Chch felt the quakes, yet, despite there being many older buildings in the city, CTV and PGC were the only ones to completely collapse. As the report indicates, had the building gone through the proper and adequate design, consent, build and post-quake reassessment procedures CTV would undoubtedly remained standing or been empty on February 22. The earthquake was only one of six causes for the collapse.

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Obvious faults to be found with the council but what about the Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) and its members who approved the construction and design of the building when it clearly did not meet the standards.

The Institute will protect its members regardless. There will likely be no accountability from the engineers involved.

Disgusting.

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20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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The designer is still open to possible prosecution for manslaughter.

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Without a doubt the council staff members who inspected the CTV building after the September earthquake were not competent or qualified to give the building a clearance and that is where the council has failed miserably and that is why the council must be held accountable.

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Very true. It's in this sense the council is responsible - which Parker is ignoring - not for some consent given 30-odd years ago.

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Ratepayers pay huge outrageous fees, permits, consents, to council, which fail to do their job and fail to be held responsible.
Typical of the good ole Kiwi way. Shrug the shoulders - what the heck - who cares attitude in this country.

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Can we see Maurice take it as well as he gives it and take blame for allowing the Rena to smash into Astrolabe? If he hadn't changed the law to allow foreigners to pilot unseaworthy vessels in our own waters it would never have happened.

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New Zealand citizenship did not stop the Marlborough Harbour Board pilot running the (apparently quite seaworthy) Mikhail Lermontov into the rocks at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. Might have been better if the foreigners had piloted it themselves that day? Sorry, they weren't allowed to because only NZers (and specially chosen Harbour Board employees at that) were allowed to do the job.

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As a legal entity the Christchurch City Council cannot simply shrug off its responsibilities just because different people ran it three decades ago under different processes and systems. And as city councils operate within the standards set by government of the time, the government also cannot completely lay blame on councils.

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Not only did the CCC permit the erection of a DUD building, but worse still they permitted the preservation [of fitness to inhabit] of that same DUD building after the Sept quake. This green ticketing issue, these preservationists, are the ones who should be held accountable, ie CCC!

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More failure by public sector officials. When are they goping to become accountable like the rest of us?

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In the US it's not the government agency that is responsible for design flaws, it's the licenced engineers who designed the building. The engineering company makes big bucks to ensure their design meets design codes.

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Yes. Unfortunately the 'business as usual' mantra expounded by the council and local business interests post-September probably contributed to a less than critical atmosphere. In hindsight, it seems that unless there was a very obvious reason buildings were cleared by some engineers after a fairly superficial inspection.

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Paddy's axe is still Paddy's axe, even though its had five new heads and three new handles in the meantime. The whole point of councils being liable is that they will still be around in the future when things go pear-shaped, something that firms will not necessarily be. It's not possible to take control of a long-term development of a city, but resile from responsibility for poor individual decisions made in bringing that vision about. Individuals may change but the institution endures.

The council's role in building regulations is in part to protect its citizens from the consequences poor design and workmanship by tradesmen and professionals when the citizens are in a poor position to make the assessment of quality themselves. Council failed citizens in this regard over the CTV building twice - when it was built and after the first quake.

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