Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Quake inquiry ends with mountains of evidence

Commissioners Sir Ron Carter (left) and Hon Justice Mark Cooper now have a huge amount of evidence to consider. Photo / David Hallett/Fairfax Media
Commissioners Sir Ron Carter (left) and Hon Justice Mark Cooper now have a huge amount of evidence to consider. Photo / David Hallett/Fairfax Media

The royal commission of inquiry hearings into the Canterbury earthquakes disaster closed today with the chairman giving a final acknowledgment to bereaved families.

Hundreds of witnesses, from survivors lucky to flee falling buildings, to engineering experts and academics, have given evidence since the hearings opened last October.

Commissioners Justice Mark Cooper, Sir Ron Carter and Professor Richard Fenwick have retired to consider the mountains of documents and weigh up witness credibility and counsel submissions before they release their final report into New Zealand's worst modern disaster before November 12.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said chairman Justice Cooper at the close of proceedings today.

He went on to acknowledge the families who attended proceedings to "try to understand, in many cases, why they have been dealing with tragedy and bereavement".

The final hearing was dedicated to an expert panel discussion on building standards which heard concerns from the Construction Industry Council over a rising tide of red tape.

Pieter Burghout, chairman of the pressure group, said the industry has become frustrated over the amount of bureaucracy involved in developing building standards and called for more action and less talking.

Justice Cooper said there was much to be said for that sort of approach.

The commissioners have been at pains to stress they will not be attributing blame for loss of life.

Their findings will make recommendations about where critical failings occurred in buildings that claimed lives in the February 22, 2011 earthquake. That could pave the way for civil and criminal action by bereaved family members.

The commissioners will also make recommendations for legal and best-practice requirements for buildings in New Zealand to try and prevent any future disasters.

The final report will be presented to the governor-general who will pass it to the Government.

Last month, the Government released the first part of the final report.

It made 70 recommendations focusing on a range of technical engineering issues including seismicity, changes to concrete structures, structural steel and earthquake actions standards, providing guidance or training to structural engineers, and low-damage building technologies.

It ruled that more research was needed into the location of active faults near Christchurch and other population centres.

Families who lost loved ones have dipped in and out of the long-running hearings held in a smart church hall in Riccarton, Christchurch. Most attended only when the hearing turned its spotlight on buildings or issues close to their heart.

The longest, and most intense, was the eight-week probe into the collapse of the six-storey CTV Building which claimed 115 lives last February.


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