Engineer for EQC to face hearing

Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014
Graeme Robinson
QUESTIONED: Homeowners allege Graeme Robinson, an engineer, based his conclusions on biased thinking.

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A Napier engineer who was the Earthquake Commission's ultimate engineering authority after the Christchurch earthquakes will face a disciplinary hearing.

Graeme Robinson will defend complaints relating to 11 properties at a Chartered Professional Engineers (CPEng) hearing in Christchurch next month.

The Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) began investigating complaints about Robinson in 2012 after The Press reported on homeowners who alleged Robinson conducted cursory inspections, was rude and arrogant, lacked equipment and based his conclusions on biased thinking.

His reports were notable for their frequent dismissal of claims as pre-earthquake damage.

EQC has continued to defend Robinson, who in recent years has done over 2000 specialist assessments in Christchurch and advised on many others.

EQC told The Press the engineer was brought in "when we need to know we have got everything exactly right from an engineering perspective."

Lately Robinson has been training EQC's engineering staff, but is still used in the field.

In late 2012 Christchurch Labour MP Ruth Dyson called for an independent inquiry into assessments performed by him, but EQC said it would work with the IPENZ inquiry.

The cases documented by The Press in 2012 revealed major differences between Robinson and other engineers over the cause of damage to houses.

Christchurch architect Paul King, whose house in St Albans was assessed by Robinson, told The Press at the time that the engineer maintained cracks in the foundations of his St Albans house pre-existed the quake, "essentially calling me a liar".

Archie and Kay Green, in their 70s, thought they were over the worst until Robinson visited their Pines Beach house in February 2012, and stopped repair work on foundations because he judged that their sinking was pre-existing.

The Greens reacted strongly, locking out the contractors, and eventually two other engineers were commissioned to review the damage. Both disagreed with Robinson's assessment.

In another case, that of Stephen and Sasha Bell's Woolston home, Robinson allegedly decided a sloping upstairs floor was pre-existing and told the Bells they had simply not noticed humping and sloping in the floor before the quakes. He did not remove the carpet to inspect the floor, they claimed.

"He pooh-poohed what our engineer said," Stephen Bell said. "But he didn't take any measurements and just walked around with our engineer's report. You couldn't tell him anything."

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The Bells' experience was mirrored by a farming family in Leeston whose house was inspected by Robinson in late 2011.

He concluded damage to foundations that put the house out of level was historical and therefore not covered by the EQC.

The family said Robinson dug some holes around the foundation with a spade and said the pre-existing settlement happened because the ground was soft.

The couple claim he blamed a builder for damage to the roof of the house and missed the fact that the roof was on new trusses which, they said, should have altered his conclusion.

"He acted more like a policeman than an engineer," the couple said at the time. "He challenged us to find another engineer saying: 'I wrote the book on earthquakes for New Zealand'."

The Press also covered a case where Robinson assessed an art deco block of 10 apartments in the inner city.

Robinson said that the solid walls of the building were of concrete construction when in fact they were of reinforced masonry.

The CPEng hearing is expected to last three days from August 27.

- The Press

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