Council denies red tape left killer buildings standing

By Anna Turner

Planner says engineer didn't raise alarm about danger in Colombo St at February meeting

Israeli tourists Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy were among 12 victims killed in the February 22 disaster by masonry falling off the Colombo St buildings, which had been badly damaged in the earlier quakes.
Photo / Supplied
Israeli tourists Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy were among 12 victims killed in the February 22 disaster by masonry falling off the Colombo St buildings, which had been badly damaged in the earlier quakes. Photo / Supplied

Christchurch City Council staff have defended claims that paperwork held up the demolition of buildings which later collapsed in the February 22 earthquake, killing 12 people.

The royal commission has been hearing evidence into the collapse of a block known as the Austral buildings in Colombo St. The facade of 603 Colombo St collapsed in the February quake, killing four pedestrians, while 605-613 Colombo fell onto a Red Bus, killing eight people.

After major damage to the Austral buildings in the September and Boxing Day shakes, it was decided they would be uneconomic to repair and should be demolished.

But at a meeting with the city council on February 1 last year, council staff told the owners that because the Austral Building was heritage-classified, it was likely that a notified resource consent would be required before it could be demolished, which could take six months.

Engineer Marton Sinclair, who had inspected the building and attended the meeting on behalf of the owners, told the commission he had been very concerned about the length of time this process would take.

"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."

Council planner Sean Ward said he had advised the meeting it might take up to six months to obtain a resource consent.

"However, I advised this was an estimate only and would depend on whether the application was to be notified. I advised in general terms notification was a strong possibility based on my experience with similar applications."

Mr Sinclair was particularly concerned with the dangerous facade.

"I do not think the risk posed by the facade was fully appreciated by Civil Defence when balancing a number of conflicting requirements The whole of Colombo St should have, in my opinion, been closed off until the buildings could be made safe or demolished."

However, Mr Ward said Mr Sinclair never raised his concerns about Colombo St at the February 1 meeting.

"I have no recollection of Mr Sinclair discussing safety concerns in relation to the Austral building. I don't remember it being discussed that the Austral building posed a risk to Colombo St. I'm confident I would recall that."

No demolition application was submitted by the owners.

Mr Sinclair also heavily criticised the official process of dealing with buildings after 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."

The council and Ministry for the Environment had discussed obtaining orders-in-council to relax resource consent requirements, but the regulatory and planning committee advised there was no need.

THE VICTIMS

603 Colombo St:
Joan Weild, 76, and Graham Weild, 77.
Ofer Levy, 22, and Gabi Moshe Ingel, 22.

605-613 Colombo St:
Andrew Craig, 46.
Jayden Andrews-Howland, 14.
Jeff Sanft, 32.
Philip Coppeard, 41.
Joseph Routledge, 74.
Lucy Routledge, 74.
Earl Stick, 78, and Beverley Stick, 71.

- APNZ

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