Paperwork blamed for delay in demolishing killer building

By Anna Turner of The Star

Colombo Street in Christchurch after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck the city in February last year. Photo / Simon Baker
Colombo Street in Christchurch after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake which struck the city in February last year. Photo / Simon Baker

An engineer lashed out at city council processes for being "too time consuming" at the Royal Commission of Inquiry today, after paperwork delayed the demolition of a red-stickered building which later collapsed in the February quake - killing four people.

The commission was hearing evidence today into the collapse of two buildings on Colombo St on February 22. The facade of 603 Colombo St collapsed in the quake, killing four pedestrians, while metres down the road 605-613 Colombo fell onto a Red Bus, killing eight people.

The heritage-classified building at 603 Colombo St was severely damaged following the September earthquake and it was yellow-stickered. Following the Boxing Day aftershock, it was red-stickered and was deemed unsafe to occupy. It was then decided the building should be demolished.

But city council paperwork delayed the demolition.

As the building was heritage-classified, the city council required a notified consent application be processed before it could be demolished. This could take up to six months.

Engineer Marton Sinclair, who inspected 603 Colombo St, told the commission today he had been very concerned about the length of time this process would take.

"We were told firmly by the council that a resource consent was required. We had buildings that were obviously seriously dangerous. I was aware of the council's policy about Heritage Buildings and that time was of the essence. I was concerned we weren't going to get adequate progress."

Of particular concern was the building's facade, which Mr Sinclair considered to be "dangerous."

"I do not think the risk posed by the facade was fully appreciated by Civil Defence when balancing a number of conflicting requirements ... The Civil Defence decision on the extent of safety barriers may also have been influenced by the fact Colombo St was a major thoroughfare giving access to the central city."

"The whole of Colombo St should have, in my opinion, been closed off until the buildings could be made safe or demolished."

Christchurch couple Joan Weild, 76, and Graham Weild, 77, and Israeli backpackers Ofer Levy, 22, and Gabi Moshe Ingel, 22, were walking in the street and were crushed by the falling facade in the quake.

Mr Sinclair heavily criticised the official process of dealing with buildings following the September earthquake.

"In my opinion, after the September earthquake the whole process of dealing with dangerous buildings had become far too complex and time consuming. This was as a result of the Christchurch city council decision on notification of resource consent. This decision effectively prevented urgent decision-making and action on dangerous buildings."

"It has become apparent to me that in emergency situations, such as we have faced, decision-making must be simple and efficient, as far as is possible. Complex planning and approval processes impede the recovery after an event."

The commission is also hearing evidence today about the nearby building at 605- 613 Colombo St, which collapsed during the February earthquake onto a bus travelling through the central city. The building was due to be demolished but also needed a notified consent application because of its heritage status.

Bus driver Andrew Craig, 46, and passengers Jayden Andrews-Howland, 14, Jeff Sanft, 32, Philip Coppeard, 41, Joseph Routledge, 74, Lucy Routledge, 74, Earl Stick, 78, and Beverley Stick, 71, died when the building fell onto the bus.

- Christchurch Star

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