'Agenda' suggestions in CTV hearing rejected

MARC GREENHILL
Last updated 14:19 06/09/2012
stephen mill std
STACY SQUIRES
CLOSING: Counsel assisting the commission Stephen Mills.

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Suggestions of an "agenda" to blame the Canterbury Television building collapse on its designers have been rejected by counsel assisting the royal commission.

In his closing submissions yesterday, counsel assisting the commission Stephen Mills said the "principal and critical failings" occurred during the design work carried out by structural engineer David Harding and his employer, Alan Reay, of Alan Reay Consultants.

"For this, Mr Harding and Dr Reay must carry the responsibility," Mills said.

"The decisions they made about the structural design of the building are, in my submission, the primary cause of the collapse."

Reay's lawyer, Hugh Rennie, today argued that Mills' opinion-based statements went beyond the commission's terms of reference.

Mills said his submission was that "various contributing events" led to the collapse.

"I reject categorically that there's an agenda here which we sought to prove and that we've stayed outside and urged the commission, I suppose, to stray outside its terms of reference," he said.

The force of the quake was the trigger "at one level".

The building had significant design defects that the February 2011 quake found, Mills said.

"That is why this building collapsed when others did not," he said.

Rennie said he had not objected to any facts being presented to the commission, but he had lost count of the times Mills said "I think" during his closing address.

"If were to take up your time with what I think, much would consumed but nothing would be gained," he said.

"It is not, with respect, what [the evidence] seems to counsel assisting. It is what you as commissioners find on what is brought before you."

Commission chairman Justice Mark Cooper asked whether Rennie believed counsel assisting could make submissions "based on inference".

"Counsel assisting can draw attention to a possible inference, but then it's a matter for the commission whether to adopt that," Rennie said.

Many parties 'aware of weaknesses'

Up to 10 parties were aware of "critical structural weaknesses" in the CTV building before its collapse, the inquiry heard.

Mills earlier asked why the building's designer, Alan Reay Consultants (ARCL), did not seek a permit for remedial work in 1991.

The Christchurch City Council may have triggered an investigation had it been made aware of the faults, he said.

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"A lot of entities and individuals were aware of this [weakness], but the council was not," he said.

"The council didn't know it had issued a permit which it accepts was now non-comply in relation to this issue."

Holmes Consulting Group filed the report as part of a pre-purchase review of the building for a prospective buyer, the Canterbury Regional Council.

Alan Reay was made aware of the report, but attempted to minimise responsibility, Mills said.

"Dr Reay had to take that stance because it must have been apparent to him that once this serious and fundamental error came to light, a wider review of the design should have been carried out, particularly as he knew [lead designer David] Harding had been inexperienced in multi-level design," he said.

The potential for a major loss claim against ARCL might explain Reay's "otherwise puzzling conduct".

"If further defects had been identified, this would have been likely to have had exactly this effect. The Nelsonian 'blind eye' might have been appealing," Mills said.

ARCL undertook the repairs 21 months after the Holmes report.

Reay and employee Geoff Banks could not explain the delay, Mills said.

"They effectively appear to have been laying low, perhaps hoping the problem might disappear."

Reay said he had been "keeping an eye" on the building and looked for signs of occupation.

"The final insult in this sorry saga of minimisation and avoidance was to leave it to the new owner, Madras Equities Ltd, to pay for the remedial work," Mills said.

He said the CTV hearing had been the "most arduous" the royal commission had dealt with.

"This has been both because of its duration and the emotional toll it will have taken on many people," Mills said.

"At the same time, it has also uncovered issues of great importance that have much wider implications than the collapse of the CTV building."

- The Press

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