Leaky buildings threat to council

GRANT BRYANT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 08:58 01/11/2012

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A Supreme Court ruling reversing current case law on leaky buildings could make the Queenstown Lakes District Council a target for legal action by owners of leaky commercial buildings.

Council general finance manager Stewart Burns gave the warning in this week's full council meeting, saying no insurance cover was available if cases were lodged and such a scenario could result in a rates hike.

On October 10, the Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that the North Shore City Council was not liable for a code of compliance it issued for a hotel tower - meaning owners of leaky apartments in the complex are now free to pursue legal action against the council, which has since been amalgamated into the Auckland Council.

"The decision does raise concerns, as it will make this council potentially liable for more claims in regard to leaky commercial buildings," Mr Burns said.

Court action was only open to leaky commercial buildings completed within the past decade, and the situation of whether any such buildings existed in Queenstown would be further investigated.

"There will be further work to identify significant areas of risk in our community," Mr Burns said.

Meanwhile, reducing Queenstown Lakes district's massive water use through water meters aimed at busting high-volume users was a hot topic around the district council table yesterday.

However, any suggestions water meters were anything other than a discussion point at this stage were scotched by the resort's mayor during a full meeting of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

A case for fitting water meters was put forward by councillors John Mann and Trevor Tattersfield. Cr Mann said self-management by water users was best achieved by installing meters.

He acknowledged it would be hugely expensive but that it would result in long-term savings. "Household electricity and phone use is all metered and water use should be no different," he said.

The discussion was sparked by the huge infrastructure cost of piping water from the council's main water treatment station to different areas of Queenstown.

The council will kick off a summer water conservation campaign next month, launching a three-year education programme to reduce water use.

The council has identified cutting water use as a major issue, and predicts that with public buy-in it can slash the district's water bill from $171 million to $72m over the next decade.

Queenstown Mayor Vanessa van Uden said ratepayers understanding the cost was key to reducing water use to save millions of dollars in infrastructure bills.

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Water use spikes in the district over summer, and it was estimated 75 per cent of potable water used in summer months was used for irrigation on private property.

Ms van Uden opened the water use discussion by saying "cold, hard progress was needed" on cutting water use.

"I want to see milestones, because we need to see stuff on the ground is being done," she said.

Cr Tattersfield backed the mayor's stance that results were the key benchmark of progress.

"We should start charging high water users now - and we could start doing that with meters," he said.

However, Ms van Uden stepped in with comments aimed at the press bench.

"We have many lessons to learn from other local bodies that have lurched down the path of metering, and anything done in relation to that would have to be done in a very structured way, before there are headlines all over the papers saying there will be water meters in Queenstown."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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