Legal remedy sought for CTV failure

HAMISH RUTHERFORD, MICHAEL WRIGHT AND MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 08:25 11/12/2012
Sir Ron Carter left, Justice Mark Cooper and Richard Fenwick.
Stacy Squires Zoom
COMMISSIONERS: Sir Ron Carter left, Justice Mark Cooper and Richard Fenwick.
Gerald Shirtcliff aka Will Fisher.
Kirk Hargreaves Zoom
CONSTRUCTION MANAGER: Gerald Shirtcliff, aka Will Fisher, led the construction of the CTV building.

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New Zealand won't be able to move on from the Canterbury Television (CTV) building tragedy till individuals are held to account for its collapse, says Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson.

The final report by the Canterbury Earthquakes royal commission, issued yesterday, concluded that the building, which collapsed during last February's earthquake killing 115 people, had serious deficiencies in its design and construction.

"My view on this is that you can't have 115 people lose their lives in a tragedy like this and somebody not be held to account.

"It's not for me as the Minister of Building and Construction to do that liability and accountability thing but we've put all this information the hands of the police, they will make a determination," Williamson told TV3's Firstline.

He had also asked his officials to explore other avenues for holding individuals to account.

"I think we will never be able to move on from this until some accountability is sheeted home to individuals."

Prime Minister John Key yesterday described a royal commission report into the CTV building's collapse "grim and sobering reading".

The final report found 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. It should not have been given resource consent in 1986, as it did not meet the building code.

The three council staff who inspected the building after the September earthquake - none of whom were engineers - gave the building a green sticker which allowed re-entry.

The findings came after an eight-week hearing in which more than 80 witnesses testified.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said he had not fully digested the report, and nor had his legal team. However, he noted the CTV building was signed off "almost three decades ago" under a different council, covering a different geographic area and smaller city.

The report put the building inspection regime under the blow torch.

Williamson said a number of changes had already been made to the building code to strengthen seismic standards, and proposals had been announced last week to evaluate the entire commercial building stock in New Zealand to make sure it met important building standards.

Government officials were proposing a five-year period for evaluations and 10 years for remedial work, though the Royal Commission had urged a more rapid assessment and remediation process.

The extra $1 billion cost was manageable given what was at stake, Williamson said.

"We don't think it is that expensive; the current earthquake prone policy....was going to add about $1 billion to building stock costs.....we're spending about $60 billion on building commercial buildings over that time."

But he was confident the policing and compliance regime had already been significantly strengthened since the CTV construction.

"We think we've changed that regime dramatically already. It used to be that councils had a pretty loose regime for doing building consents. We've recently gone through a proper accreditation for what we call building certification authorities.

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"A number of councils didn't even make the cut originally had to change their whole methodology [to a] more professional approach and get properly trained and skilled people into there.

"Of course you can never guarantee the checks and balances in there; if they're not done legally, if someone circumvents it, it's always difficult. We're pretty confident that won't happen."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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