Hopes dashed as Harding resigns

QUIT PROFESSIONAL BODY: Structural engineer David Harding.  Harding was employed by Alan Reay Consultants when the CTV building was designed in 1986.
QUIT PROFESSIONAL BODY: Structural engineer David Harding. Harding was employed by Alan Reay Consultants when the CTV building was designed in 1986.

Hopes that there might be accountability for the CTV building collapse are fading after its designer quit the industry's professional body days before a disciplinary hearing, a victim's father says.

The Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (Ipenz) yesterday confirmed the resignation of David Harding, who in 1986 designed the building which killed 115 people when it collapsed in the February 2011 earthquake.

He was scheduled to face two Ipenz disciplinary hearings on July 14, but can no longer be sanctioned as a result of the first hearing - relating to his engineering activities on the CTV building - if found to have breached standards.

Harding's lawyer, Michael Kirkland, told The Press he would not be contacting his client about Ipenz's statement until the weekend.

Complainant Tim Elms, whose daughter Teresa McLean was among the victims, said he was disappointed by Harding's move.

"We know it was only a wet bus ticket [punishment] . . . it's just another avenue to achieving some sort of accountability [that has] gone," he said.

The Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission found the CTV building did not meet construction standards.

It found Harding was working "beyond his competence" and had been largely unsupervised by his employer, Alan Reay, despite Harding's limited experience designing multi-level buildings.

Ipenz had also been investigating Reay, but that action was dropped when he quit the body in February.

CTV construction manager Gerald Shirtcliff, who falsified his credentials, now lives in Australia.

He was stripped of his engineering degree and Engineers Australia cancelled his membership, but he was not charged with fraud in Australia.

Police announced in February that engineering firm Beca had been engaged to review information on the collapse of the building. A police spokesman said their assessment of potential action over the case was continuing.

Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith said the resignation was "disappointing and concerning".

"It's quite unacceptable for professional people when they are being held to account to simply resign and walk away. That would not be possible for any building designed after 2002 but the old Engineers Registration Act effectively enabled a person to avoid accountability in this way," he said. Elms said he spent "hours" preparing information for Harding's disciplinary hearing, and families of victims from overseas had prepared statements.

"[Ipenz] are going ahead . . . but what's the point?" He and the other families would still attend the hearing to "say our piece". There was hope both Reay and Harding's chartered professional engineer (CPEng) status - a higher level of authority within the industry - could be challenged, he said.

Ipenz chief executive Andrew Cleland said Harding had been "co-operating fully with our inquiries" until his resignation.

The disciplinary committee would meet today to decide the hearing's new format, which could take "a few days" to resolve. Harding could still be disciplined as a

CPEng. "You can't get out of those ones by resigning, so we will proceed come what may, as would any complaint against a chartered professional engineer," Cleland said.

"If an engineer is not [a CPEng], councils may not accept their work."

Ipenz could now state publicly that it fully accepted the royal commission's CTV building findings, he said. It agreed:

The design did not conform to the accepted minimum practice standard of the day in the structural engineering field.

The primary design engineer did not have the competence for designing a building of the complexity of CTV.

The deficiencies in the design were not corrected through supervision and review systems within the design firm.

Some deficiencies may have been detected by the Christchurch City Council, but were not corrected before a building permit was issued.

Deficiencies were not detected during construction as might have occurred if the construction manager had been present more often at site.

The site inspections by the primary design engineer did not prevent the construction defects from occurring.

The design was "not consistent with what the profession set out in 2009 as a good-practice methodology", Cleland said.

Reay said he could understand why Harding resigned, "particularly if he has had the same treatment I had when I tried to engage with Ipenz".

"I am astonished that Ipenz has been publicly critical of Mr Harding while still intending to continue with its hearings. It is wrong to do so . . ."

Reay said at the time of the CTV building design, Harding had been an engineer for 13 years and was allocated a senior draftsman with extensive experience in working with engineers in the design of multi-storey buildings for the project.

"Mr Harding to my knowledge was and is a conscientious and able engineer whose work was, except for the CTV building, the subject of favourable comment by witnesses at the royal commission," he said.

Harding's decision reflected inadequacies in the Engineers Registration Act and "reinforces my determination to make changes to the system by which we regulate engineers".

Smith said he would make announcements regarding reforms before Parliament rises at the end of the month.

The Press