High-rise residents fear gas leak

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012
Morris Hey
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
EXPLOSIVE COMPLAINT: Richmond Estate resident Morris Hey says a major gas leak has him and fellow apartment owners worried about explosion or fire.

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Residents of a swanky New Plymouth inner-city apartment block say they are living in fear of fire because of a gas leak that won't get fixed.

But although the residents can smell the gas - as did a Taranaki Daily News team when it visited the site yesterday - lines company Powerco says there is no leak.

The smell is coming from a badly corroded above-ground pipe that carried the gas from St Aubyn St to the base of the seven-storey Richmond Estate which overlooks the city's famed Coastal Walkway.

Things have got so bad the gas cannot only be clearly smelled at the footpath in St Aubyn St, but it is also killing vegetation planted in a garden surrounding the pipe's entrance into the apartment block.

The owners of the seven apartments - each of which is worth at least $800,000 - have been trying unsuccessfully for several months to get lines company Powerco to fix the leak.

And when they read in the media this week that Powerco had just reported a bumper $40.2 million after-tax profit for the six months to September 30 this year, they decided to go public with their frustrations.

"Surely these people have a duty of care requiring them to fix a leak such as this," resident Morris Hey said.

"The gas pipe is terribly corroded and the gas leak is getting worse. It's been getting bad for at least four months. Our fear is that if it bursts into flames or explodes, the flames will go straight up the seven storeys."

Mr Hey, who is a residents' representative on the Richmond Estate's body corporate management group, said several months ago the body corporate engaged a local plumber to investigate the leak.

"He confirmed the leak existed, so Powerco was contacted. It sent one of its people around to check things out, and he also confirmed the gas pipe was in bad condition and promised he would tell his superiors immediately.

"But since then we haven't heard a thing from them."

Mr Hey said residents were worried that the gas might accumulate on a calm day and create a dangerously explosive situation.

"All that would need to happen is for some guy to walk past and light a cigarette, and boom - the fire would go straight up our stair-well."

Yesterday, Powerco issued a media statement apologising to the Richmond Estate residents for any stress or inconvenience this issue had caused - but adding that no gas leak has been detected.

Powerco gas operations manager Don Elers said safety was the company's top priority.

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"Powerco treats any report of the smell of gas with extreme urgency. We have sent technicians out to this site twice in the last month after reports of the smell of gas, and our people have sophisticated leak-detection equipment which has found no trace of a gas leak," he said.

After inquiries by the Taranaki Daily News yesterday, a technician again visited the site.

- Taranaki Daily News

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