MP wants inquiry into engineer

Labour MP Ruth Dyson has called for an independent inquiry into an Earthquake Commission (EQC) engineer who has generated numerous complaints including several to the Institution of Engineers (IPENZ).

The Press understands the engineer has been withdrawn from frontline assessments by EQC and is now employed in a training role.

Dyson said she had written to Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee about the engineer and his regular "historic damage" findings "which are against the findings of other professionals".

Brownlee had passed her concerns to EQC chief executive Ian Simpson whose response was, in her view, unsatisfactory.

"The integrity and confidence in EQC is under threat, as well as the professional reputation of this assessor. The response from EQC has been inadequate and defensive and does little to quell the tide of frustration and anger.

"This should be sorted as a priority," Dyson said.

"I believe that it would be appropriate for the minister to instigate an independent inquiry into these allegations and get the matter aired and resolved. It has the potential to turn into an ACC-type debacle without such action."

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said EQC was working with IPENZ on an independent review of those assessments referred to IPENZ by EQC customers.

"We have no plans to launch our own inquiry as the IPENZ-led review will address all the relevant areas that require independent verification," he said.

The Press understands seven Canterbury householders have complained to IPENZ about the engineer and one more complaint is being prepared.

The call for an independent inquiry was supported by Christchurch architect Paul King, whose own house was assessed by the engineer. In a letter to Dyson, King said he believed from his own experience and listening to his colleagues, there were "worrying indications of inappropriate behaviour and professional assessments that seem not always consistent with the judgement of his peers".

"I don't think we need a witch hunt, but this is a time when we cannot afford loss of confidence in the key players we are relying on to rebuild Christchurch, and given that the cases we are learning about do not seem isolated, I have to conclude that some sort of open inquiry is probably warranted to address and allay concerns that the EQC (or certain professionals working for it) may indeed be systematically dismissing or minimising genuine structural issues and under-scoping repairs through such means."

Few people had the confidence and courage to stand up to the engineer.

"Who knows how many unreported cases there are, and what the future fallout might be? Not everyone affected has a friendly architect or engineer to stand up for them."

Another Christchurch architect who asked not to be named said he had a dispute with the engineer over what constituted a "legal repair".

His firm had designed a replacement for an earthquake-damaged double-brick garage firewall to a house in Cashmere and hired a structural engineer to design the bracing.

The EQC engineer had reviewed the design and suggested "we had exceeded our brief, inferring we were trying to get some betterment on behalf of the owner".

"He seems to have a fairly unique view of what the Building Act 2004 requires when undertaking repairs to an existing building and told me he has legal advice to support his stance," the architect said.

"Trouble is that in general, most engineers and architects disagree with his position. He seems to be someone that cannot accept he is wrong and is on a crusade to ‘educate' the industry."

The architect said the job had been delayed for months but EQC last week agreed "that we could proceed with a building consent application".

The Press