Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Firms sued in test case on school leaks

Ministry goes after several big firms including Carter Holt Harvey.

Lawyer Paul Grimshaw, who specialises in leaky building cases, said the Government had the financial resources to take such a case. Photo / APN
Lawyer Paul Grimshaw, who specialises in leaky building cases, said the Government had the financial resources to take such a case. Photo / APN

Building products giant Carter Holt Harvey is among companies battling a multimillion-dollar claim brought by the Ministry of Education over leaky schools, court documents reveal.

The difficult test case in the High Court at Auckland against cladding manufacturers relates to several thousand leaky buildings at schools.

The ministry is seeking repair costs and damages, with the cost for full remediation across all schools previously estimated at $1.5 billion.

When the action was announced in April, the ministry would not name the defendants. However Australian company James Hardie identified two of its New Zealand subsidiaries as affected.

A High Court judgment has now revealed the full list of defendants - James Hardie NZ Ltd (first defendant), Studorp Ltd (a James Hardie subsidiary), Carter Holt Harvey Ltd, and CSR Building Products (NZ) Ltd.

Carter Holt Harvey declined to comment when asked about the court action yesterday.

The decision to go after cladding manufacturers, in addition to builders and architects, has made the legal action an important test case.

Lawyer Paul Grimshaw, who specialises in leaky building cases, said the Government had the financial resources to take such a case, which would be extremely hard-fought.

"What the Government and the schools are doing is asking for a very, very large contribution from Hardies."

Mr Grimshaw said other companies caught up in leaky building legal action would be watching the case very closely.

It is in its early stages, but already Opus International Consultants Ltd has successfully applied to see court documents outlining the ministry's case.

Opus, which is a defendant in other leaky building action being brought by the Minister of Education, argued that it was possible cladding systems in its case were designed, manufactured and/or installed by defendants in the James Hardie action.

A spokesman for James Hardie said it was the company's view that the ministry's claim "lacks merit", and its New Zealand subsidiaries would vigorously defend the action.

"We do not have sufficient information at this early stage of the proceedings to determine the quantum of the claim that relates to our New Zealand subsidiaries, or the number of school buildings involved.

"We are not able to comment on the specifics of the claim given the matter is currently before the New Zealand High Court."

A spokeswoman for CSR referred to a statement provided to the Australian Securities Exchange in April, which said the company imported and distributed a small amount of relevant product to New Zealand.

"Based on the low level of market share for the product, CSR believes any potential financial impact [from] this action would not be material to the financial results of the company."

The defendants

*James Hardie New Zealand
*Studorp
*Carter Holt Harvey
*CSR Building Products (NZ)

- NZ Herald

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