CTV engineer 'was experienced'

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 13:57 15/08/2012
david harding
David Hallett
APOLOGY: David Harding apologised during the CTV hearing today.

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The engineer who designed the Canterbury Television building "never communicated" any concerns that he was not up to the job, his former boss says.

Alan Reay, principal of Alan Reay Consultants (ARCL), today told the Canterbury earthquakes royal commission that he believed David Harding was an "experienced engineer".

Harding designed the CTV building, which collapsed during the February 2011 earthquake, killing 115 people, while working for Reay in the mid-1980s.

The commission has heard Harding had little experience in designing multi-storey buildings, asymmetric buildings or in using a computer modelling programme called Etabs, with which he tested the seismic strength of the CTV design.

Reay was questioned by Harding's counsel, Michael Kirkland, on his client's suitability for the project.

"[Harding] says that on his self-evaluation he did not have the competence to design the building ... In the face of all this evidence, surely you must accept that now?" Kirkland said.

"At the time I had no reason to doubt that he was ... capable of undertaking the work," Reay said.

Harding should have raised concerns about his experience, Reay said.
"That's part of being a registered engineer."

He reiterated his admission that, as ARCL principal, he was "ultimately responsible" for any design inadequacies, but fingered Harding as well.

"This situation arose because of the trust I placed in what I understood to be a competent and appropriately experienced registered engineer."

He rejected Kirkland's accusation he had "embarked on an orchestrated plan to distance yourself from Mr Harding" and that he should have been mentoring Harding after experienced engineer John Henry left the firm.

Harding would not have been assigned the CTV job if he had said it was beyond him, Reay said.

"If ... at the time when he was considering whether he took on the CTV building or not, he had said what you [Kirkland] have just said, I would not have agreed to him undertaking it and it would not have been undertaken within ARCL," he said.

Kirkland said: "I have no doubt this has been a very low point in your professional life, but have you got any idea, because of your distancing yourself from Mr Harding, what he is going through at the moment, mentally and emotionally?''

"I can understand what he is going through but I am not distancing myself from him," Reay said.

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"Do you feel you own him an apology?" Kirkland asked.

"I haven't thought of it in that context," Reay said.

Earlier, Reay accepted that parts of the CTV building may not have met building standards, but it was impossible to know because some documents had been lost.

"Based on the fact that the city council issued the building permit for the building, the city council must have considered that the building complied with the relevant codes and bylaws at the time," he said.

CTV engineer apologises for mistakes

Harding had earlier used his final appearance before the commission today to say sorry to the family and friends of the 115 people who died in the building.

"I've spent a lot of time thinking about what to say and what the right time was and I think it got more and more difficult as time went on," he said.

"It's sort of a worst-nightmare scenario for an engineer. All I can do is offer my heartfelt condolences and sympathy ... and to apologise for any contribution to that failure which was caused by anything I should or shouldn't have done.

"I won't be forgetting this."

Harding said the building was designed to best-practice standards in most areas, and the sheer force of the earthquake on February 22 last year triggered its collapse.

"I really do think it was the vertical acceleration which the [building] code didn't make provision for."

He admitted that spiral steel reinforcing in the building's columns was too widely spaced and that concrete columns in the building had not been designed to bend and absorb the shaking forces of an earthquake, but said this had no effect on its fate.

"[The columns] couldn't be expected to take that load even if they had been detailed for ductility,'' he said.

"I've obviously given it a lot of thought and a lot of sleepless nights about what I could have done differently and I believe that there were a few details which had remedial work done to them."

The commission will this afternoon hear evidence on remedial work done on the CTV building in 1991.

A 1990 report by engineering firm Holmes Consulting Group found the building might not be code-compliant.

Drag bars were installed on the top three levels to strengthen connections between the floor slabs and the north shear wall, allowing for greater stability in a quake.

The commission will finish hearing evidence on the collapse tomorrow.

- The Press

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