CTV royal commission finds deficiencies

MICHAEL WRIGHT AND MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 16:33 10/12/2012
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Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand owes it to victims of the Christchurch earthquake ''to find answers as to why some buildings failed so severely".

A royal commission report released this afternoon found that the Canterbury Television building should not have been granted a building permit by the Christchurch City Council.

The building's collapse on February 22, 2011 killed 115 people. The report has highlighted inadequacies in its construction and concluded that the building should not have been given a green sticker after the September earthquake.

Of the three council staff who inspected the building, none were engineers.

Key said in a statement that the volume on the collapse of the CTV building ''makes for grim and sobering reading''.

"We recognise this news will be of little comfort to the friends and families of the 115 people who lost their lives in the CTV building on that fateful day,'' Key said.

"Nothing will ever bring their loved ones back and we cannot dull their pain. My thoughts are with them as they continue to try to come to terms with their loss."

Building and construction minister Maurice Williamson has asked officials to look for possible legal avenues to pursue in light of the failure of the CTV building.

"I've asked my officials to give me advice about what any possible legal avenues are we can pursue to hold people to accounts for what happened," Williamson said.

The final report by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission concluded that the CTV building should not have been given a resource consent in 1986 because it did not meet the building code of the time.

The commission's report would be given to the Institute of Professional Engineers, while Police could pursue criminal matters, Mr William said.

"I'm quite keen to know if there are any other avenues, at all, that we can pursue. There may not be."

The Crown did not appear to hold any responsibility, with Christchurch City Council giving a resource consent and signing off on the building, Mr Williamson said. 

FUNDAMENTAL ERRORS

The CTV building did not meet construction standards, was designed by an engineer out of his depth and overseen by a boss who should have known better.

In short, it should not have been built the way it was.

A royal commission report recommends changes in building practices to avoid a repeat of the disaster.

The findings, released today, come after an eight-week hearing with testimony from more than 80 witnesses.

The commissioners found building designer David Harding was working ''beyond his competence'' and identified fundamental errors in his plans.

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It also criticised the hands-off approach of Harding's boss, Alan Reay.

Harding did not know he was ill-equipped for the job, the report said, and Reay was mistaken in placing such responsibility in him: ''[Harding's] self-assessment of his competence and the confidence he had that he could design the building competently was unfounded.

''This ... raises issues about Dr Reay's decision to hand over the design of the CTV building over to Mr Harding without having any intention of reviewing his work.''

Harding had no experience designing multi-storey buildings, and had Reay reviewed his work, he may have picked up the design problems.

The commissioners identified four major reasons for the building's collapse:

- poorly-designed joints between the building's beams and columns. The reinforcing that held two together was weak and not up 1986 building standards.

- inadequate steel reinforcing in the concrete columns.

- weak ties between the floors and north wall - the strongest part of the building.

- smooth surfaces of the pre-cast concrete beams where they met the columns weakened the join. That they were not roughened was a ''critical omission''.

The building permit for CTV, issued by the Christchurch City Council (CCC) in September 1986, should not have been granted, the report said.

A CCC inspector voiced concerns about design problems, but eventually signed off on the project after Reay intervened.''[Reay] involvement in the permitting process contributed, at least to some extent, to the wrongful permitting of the building,'' the report said.

Reay had not reviewed Harding's drawings, and it was ''difficult to understand how he was in a position to give any proper assurances in relation to the design''.

The commissioners concluded construction manager Gerald Shirtcliff, since exposed by The Press as a fraudster leading to his sacking and being stripped of his engineering qualifications in Australia, did not spend enough time on site.

The construction manager was another who could have indentified design problems, and given guidance to site foreman Bill Jones.

Jones was a ''competent and experienced foreman'', the report said, but was ''working in circumstances he appears to have been unused to''.

LOST OPPORTUNITY

Strengthening work done in 1991, after the weak connections between the floors and the north wall were picked up by another engineer, was an ''opportunity ... lost'' to check for other flaws, the commissioners found, with Reay the chief culprit.

''The identification of such a 'fundamental' design error should have signalled the need for a more detailed review of the design.''

An engineering inspection after the September 2010 quake was satisfactory, the report said.

The engineer, David Coatsworth, conducted a damage-based assessment standard at the time, and could not have known of the building's shortcomings despite asking to see structural drawings and never getting them.

Coatsworth recommended further assessment and the commissioners noted building manager John Drew's failure to do this before February 22.

Crucially, though, they concluded any pre-existing damage ''would have made very little difference'' on February 22, 2011.

The six-storey building, constructed in 1986, claimed 115 lives when it collapsed.

The Canterbury earthquakes royal commission report was presented to the Government this month.

The Government released the final part of the report with no official response, in order to give the families who lost loved ones to have access to the information as soon as possible, Key said.

In total, the Royal Commission's full report was spread over seven volumes and 1100 pages, and made 189 recommendations.

"The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of Inquiry was incredibly complex and its report has potentially wide-ranging implications for the entire country, not just Canterbury," Key said, adding that the government would take time consider the findings before issuing a ''full and comprehensive response'' by mid-2013.

More than 80 witnesses gave evidence at the eight-week commission hearing, which finished in September.

It covered the initial building consent issued by the Christchurch City Council, the construction and design, identification of a structural weakness in 1990 and the assessment after the September 4 and Boxing Day quakes in 2010.

Commission executive director Justine Gilliland said before the hearing that it would be "inquisitorial, not adversarial", as the commission's role was not to apportion blame.

Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said this was already a difficult time of year for family members and they needed any information that might ''give them answers, peace or some closure''.

- The Press

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