Editorial: CTV tragedy must not happen again

Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012

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OPINION: the trigger for the collapse of the Canterbury Television building was the phenomenal power unleashed by the earthquake that ripped through Christchurch on February 22, 2011.

However, the reason for the building tumbling in on itself like a house of cards while others around it withstood the onslaught was a litany of failures that cost 115 lives.

Nothing could have prevented the violent upheaval that began under the Port Hills and raced into the city at three kilometres a second, but plenty could have been done to ensure the CTV building was not a disaster-in-waiting.

The Canterbury Earthquakes royal commission has exposed the oversights that contributed to the six-storey building "pancaking" to the ground within 10 to 20 seconds of the onset of the shaking.

It has found that its designer, engineer David Harding, lacked relevant experience and was working beyond his competence and that his employer, Alan Reay, failed to supervise his work. When Christchurch City Council building inspectors voiced concerns about the design, Dr Reay convinced them their fears were unfounded, despite the fact his own evidence was that he knew very little about the structural details of the building.

The design was given a permit despite it not complying with the council's building bylaw, and there was a five-month period during construction in 1987 when there were no council inspections.

The royal commission finds that there were defects in the building's construction, and that it was not properly supervised by construction manager Gerald Shirtcliff - since found to have faked his engineering qualifications.

It has also raised questions about council inspections of the building after the September 4 and Boxing Day 2010 earthquakes.

Given the commission's findings, it is not surprising that the handful of people who escaped from the building and the relatives of those who died want somebody held to account. Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson is also keen to see somebody shoulder responsibility for the collapse.

He has handed the commission's report to the Institute of Professional Engineers and asked his officials for advice on any legal avenues the Government can pursue.

One issue he could consider immediately is the present regulatory system for engineers. It emerged yesterday that the institute cannot stop someone continuing to work as a structural engineer if their membership is removed.

Real estate agents have a tougher regime. Police have confirmed that they are also reviewing the royal commission's report to determine whether to launch a criminal investigation.

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If there are people who can be demonstrably shown to be at fault, then by all means they must be held to account in the appropriate forum. But it is also important that the lessons that should be taken from the royal commission's report are not lost amid fingerpointing and recrimination.

The failings that led to the CTV building collapsing could have been avoided. Such a tragedy must never be allowed to happen again.

- The Dominion Post

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