Permits breach safety codes

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 03/07/2013

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The Christchurch City Council has granted building consents that potentially put people and property at risk, International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz) says.

Ianz on Monday announced it was revoking the council’s accreditation of its consents function on July 8, prompting a council and Government scramble to ensure consents can continue to be issued in the rebuilding city.

The council had granted consents that Ianz found ‘‘did not meet the requirements of the Building Code’’, prompting one earthquake widower to label the debacle ‘‘very worrying’’.

Council officials will meet Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Local Government Minister Chris Tremain in Christchurch today. The most likely outcome is the appointment of a commissioner to run the council’s consents department until accreditation can be regained.

While attempts have been made to downplay the seriousness of the revocation, Ianz chief executive Llew Richards told The Press yesterday ‘‘we have serious concerns’’.

He referred to sections of the latest Ianz report saying the authority had identified council building consents that breached the Building Code and/or Act.

‘‘These have the potential to cause damage to the property, other adjoining property or injury to people,’’ the report says.

According to the report, last September Ianz told the council ‘‘further action’’ was required, and expected, at a minimum, ‘‘a full internal audit including technical review by technical experts of consents issued’’. By the end of June Ianz remained dissatisfied.

‘‘Without CCC taking action to ensure that consents currently being issued were technically valid and evidence of this review being provided to Ianz, Ianz does not have evidence to be assured consents granted are technically valid,’’ its report said.

Maan Alkaisi, whose wife, Maysoon Abbas, was killed in the Canterbury Television building collapse during the February 2011 earthquake, said it was ‘‘very worrying’’ that building safety remained an issue.

‘‘Safety, especially for Christchurch, has to be No1,’’ he said.

A royal commission of inquiry found the CTV building should not have been signed off by the council in the late 1980s.

Alkaisi said the consent debacle had been a blow.

‘‘I was really disappointed that we had not learnt much after what happened. All of the royal commission findings and conclusions were that we must do a better job,’’ he said.

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The legal repercussions of the revocation were also clarified yesterday.

Lane Neave lawyer Duncan Webb said the council would be in breach of the Building Act if it continued issuing building consents without accreditation.

The act gives the council its authority to issue consents and requires a consents authority to be registered as well as accredited. It cannot be registered without accreditation from the relevant body, in this case, Ianz.

When a council fails to meet the criteria under the act, the chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment must recommend to the minister that "the minister must appoint one or more persons to act in the place of the territorial authority".

 

Webb said the council could in theory issue consents until its function was suspended or deregistered, but the process under the Building Act required parties to act quickly.

The accreditation was not like a "heart tick" but more like a "hygiene tick" for a restaurant, he said.

Christchurch structural engineer Grant Wilkinson said all of his firm's work had been peer-reviewed before the consenting process and the checks were "rigorous".

The council in his dealings had been "thorough" and "certainly upped their game".

"Even simple houses they might have 60 questions for the architect and others to respond to. They do it at a comprehensive level," he said.

Brownlee told reporters at Parliament yesterday he believed the council could issue consents without accreditation, but he was concerned the lack of accreditation could affect the "lendability and insurability" of some projects.

He said he had detected a reluctance in recent council statements to accept it had a competency issue, but it was possible the speakers had other private views.

He was staggered the problem went back as far as 2007, he said, but admitted in Parliament he did not know about the September Ianz report until June 7.

"At that point I decided that this situation was intolerable and we have been taking action since that time and we will have further discussions with the city council tomorrow, because this situation cannot continue."

Those who had argued the Government should stay out of local authority functions should now be reconsidering, he said.

The council was not able to respond yesterday.

- The Press

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