Contractor who dug up car park in protest faces bill

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014

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A contractor who dug up a Christchurch supermarket car park in protest at not getting paid for his work faces a bill for his actions.

Police kicked Pera Te Amo and his diggers off Ferrymead's new Countdown site last week as they were turning the almost finished car park into a pile of soil.

Te Amo claimed the main contractor, Watts & Hughes Construction, did not pay him for some of the work completed.

Angry and fed up, he last week had his crew rip up the car park, before police arrived to serve a trespass order.

A spokeswoman for the developer, PDS Property, said it had "promptly paid all certified amounts owing to the head contractor, Watts & Hughes Construction, including payment claims relating to the car park construction".

"Any dispute Mr Te Amo has in relation to payment for his work is with Watts & Hughes Construction and not PDS Property."

Watts & Hughes Construction declined to comment.

Te Amo said there would be no criminal charges but he expected to get into trouble for his actions.

"The developer will send me a bill for the damage done at some stage, which is quite ironic considering we haven't got paid . . . I'm going to be the loser."

He did not regret his action as it sparked an "overwhelming" response from other subcontractors who had been afraid to speak about similar problems.

Te Amo said the Government needed to change the Construction Contracts Act as existing rules made it too easy for main contractors and developers not to pay subcontractors.

In most large construction projects, developers hire a main contractor to take control of the site. The main contractor then uses subcontractors to do the work, and usually holds back part of the payment as a security - retention money - until completion of the work.

Te Amo said retention money should be held in a trust to protect it in case of problems.

"It has been this way for more than 20 years but subcontractors don't say anything because they are scared. They don't want to be blacklisted from the market."

Specialist Trade Contractors Federation president Graham Burke said Te Amo's reaction was "symptomatic of the frustration some subcontractors feel". "There is an imbalance of power between the main contractor and the subcontractor. It's certainly not the first time that somebody's taken action into their own hands."

Burke said most contractors used retention money as cash flow rather than security.

"If subcontractors don't agree with retention, they won't get the work."

Countdown shoppers will still be able to visit the new shop today as planned, as City Care has been working to fix the car park.

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Countdown property general manager Adrian Walker said the store had worked hard to make sure it could open on time.

"While the car park won't be 100 per cent perfect, there will be plenty of parking available for customers and we expect it to be fully sealed by the end of the week, weather pending.

"Countdown is the tenant so we don't own the land or the building, however we've been doing what we can to resolve the issue."

He said the opening was an "exciting milestone for the community".

Countdown said it was not involved in the dispute directly, but was trying to work with the landlord to resolve the issue.

City Care confirmed Watts & Hughes Construction had commissioned it to work on the site.

A spokesperson for Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment was consulting with the industry to find a solution for contract disputes.

If one could be found, it would be added to the Construction Contracts Amendment Bill.

- The Press

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