Dispute over cause of delays to Christchurch's Justice and Emergency Services Precinct
A steel company that worked on Christchurch's Justice and Emergency Services Precinct says changes to the design were a factor in delays to the $300 million project.
But the Ministry of Justice denies that is the case.
When the precinct opening was repeatedly pushed back Justice Minister Amy Adams, the ministry and contractor Fletcher Construction all refused to comment on reasons for the delay.
However, details have emerged in ministerial briefing papers released under the Official Information Act (OIA) after intervention by the Ombudsman following a complaint from Stuff.
Those documents said site works fell behind schedule by nine to 11 weeks due to steel fabrication issues and Fletcher Construction had outsourced the work to two extra steel fabricators to get the project back on track.
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Grayson Engineering had the steel contract and commercial manager Colin Berger said the delay resulted from changes to the building design.
"We'd started work on the project doing our drawings, then two months later a peer review came out from another engineer that changed the design and we had to go back to square one."
He said Grayson had organised the two extra steel subcontractors to help make up time lost.
When asked to comment on changes to the building design, reasons for them and their impact on the project, the ministry's response was brief: "It is not correct that design changes led to a delay in steel fabrication."
Fletcher Construction declined to comment, as did building architects Warren and Mahoney.
Fletcher Construction was supposed to hand over the completed project in early February, ready for agencies to move in in June, but the precinct was officially opened in mid-September and only some justice staff have moved in. District and high court hearings will not begin there until November.
Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Nicky Wagner has revealed the delay cost Fletcher Construction $100m in penalty payments
The material released under the OIA paints a picture of a project under increasing pressure as contractors scrambled to meet deadlines
Problems were signalled in February 2015 when a ministry weekly report said delivery of fabricated steel had fallen six weeks behind schedule and the following month ongoing management of design changes was described as a "risk focus."
In July 2015 an update to key ministers said Fletcher Construction had found steel fabrication "complex and challenging", leading to a delay of nine to 11 weeks, and the number of competing steel buildings under construction had "caused a choke point" in the steel supply chain.
Taking on another two fabricators had helped, but the size of the steel components for the build limited the potential for further outsourcing.
Grayson Engineering managing director David Moore disputes this take on events.
"It's a bit of a long bow to draw to blame it all on the fabricators' lack of capacity and productivity because that's not the case … there's plenty of capacity locally and there always has been."
A ministerial update in February 2016 said Fletcher had reorganised its construction team, significantly increasing site supervision and management, and the company was committed to completing the precinct by the agreed revised deadline.
Two months later the project was still five weeks behind and the ministry said it would require close management by Fletcher to prevent further "slippage".
By August there was "frequent engagement" between the ministry's project team and Fletcher Construction Group chief executive Graham Darlow, who has since retired, and the company had commissioned an independent review of its work programme and site performance.
A later ministry report said that at the peak there were almost 600 workers on the site and Fletcher Construction incentivised subcontractors to work through the Christmas holiday period to make up time.