CTV building inquiry: 'Safe is a relative word'

By Jarrod Booker

Photo / Geoff Sloan
Photo / Geoff Sloan

The only structural engineer to assess the Canterbury Television (CTV) building after a major earthquake in September 2010 has agreed his finding could be read as "code'' for it being safe to occupy.

However David Coatsworth today told the Royal Commission into Building Failures in the Canterbury Earthquakes he could not recall being specifically asked if the CTV building was safe prior to it collapsing and killing 115 people in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake on February 22, 2011. Safe was a relative word, he said.

Mr Coatsworth, a senior structural engineer for CPG New Zealand, visually inspected the building on September 29, 2010 - less than a month after the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck Canterbury. It had already been "green-stickered'' by the Christchurch City Council.

His damage report in October 2010 stated the building "does exhibit considerable damage with regard to linings and finishings''.

"There is also some minor structural damage, but there are no obvious structural failures. In that respect we believe that the building has performed reasonably well.''

Mr Coatsworth told the inquiry today: "If I had seen anything to warrant it, I would have closed the building.''

He said even if asked, he could not give any assurance of the building being safe to occupy.

"I don't recall being asked if the building was safe at any time.''

But when questioned further by one of the lawyers at today's hearing, Mr Coatsworth agreed the comments in his damage report about the building performing reasonably well and having no obvious structural failure could be taken as "code'' for his view that the building was safe to occupy.

Asked again if he thought the building was safe at the time, he said: "I didn't say that, and the word safe is a relative word''.

"What I was saying is that capacity of the building hadn't been significantly reduced.''

Mr Coatsworth was unable to get structural drawings for the building from building manager John Drew or Christchurch City Council when carrying out his inspection.

He said his role was to look for damage in the building. However his report would not quantify the extent of the damage, such as length of cracks or plasterboard that needed replacing. He said he expected the damage he had reported would be quantified and then repairs costed and carried out.

Mr Coatsworth said he still relived his inspection "over and over'', and asked himself if there was anything he could have done differently.

The hearings on the CTV building are expected to last eight weeks.

- NZ Herald

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