A former manager of Bella Vista Homes says his concerns surrounding the lack of retaining walls around homes they were building were fobbed off by the failed development's director, who is now facing a lengthy court trial.
Bella Vista Homes Limited, The Engineer Limited, their respective directors Danny Cancian and Bruce Cameron, and bricklayer Darrel Joseph are defending a raft of charges in the Tauranga District Court.
The charges laid by Tauranga City Council relate to the defendants allegedly carrying out building works which were not in accordance with the Building Act, in particular a building consent. They relate to 21 houses in various stages of completion in The Lakes that were evacuated in March 2018.
Dean Skipper told the court today in the judge-alone trial he first worked for Bella Vista Homes as a roofer in 2017 and about 18 months later he took on the role of operations manager, after the departure of former operations manager Ian Minnell. However, there were some "inherited" issues.
When asked by prosecution counsel Richard Marchant whether Skipper saw anything of concern in his role of operations manager, he said a lot of the foundations for the homes they were building were either in the wrong location or had the wrong height, "and that has an ongoing effect".
Skipper also confirmed there were concerns with excavation in some areas and height differentiation with driveways between Lakes Boulevard and Aneta Way.
"There were some [excavation] cuts in there that were quite high," he said.
When pressed by Judge Paul Mabey QC as to how this was problematic, Skipper said it was a safety issue and it needed to be addressed, usually in the form of a retaining wall, "so that it's not going to collapse or it's a problem".
"Because the type of ground up there, when it rains, it turns into silt and runs away, runs away. It had the potential to collapse."
Skipper said he told Cancian of his worries but was told it was not Bella Vista's concern.
"We talked about it and I wanted to do it [set up a retaining wall] but was instructed otherwise."
Cancian's focus was building the houses, not retaining walls, he said.
Skipper said the issues were first highlighted to him on his second day as operations manager, when he received a call to meet a council building inspector on-site "because one of the foundations was in the wrong place".
"I measured it and it was. From there, I realised some others were as well ... I went back and would have talked to Danny about it, saying 'what are we going to do?' But he employed me to do my job and just get on with it."
It had the potential to collapse.
Skipper said it would likely have cost $40,000 to $50,000 to rip out the incorrect foundations so he worked with the council instead on a variation application for consent, which was accepted.
He told the court it was in Bella Vista Homes' contracts with clients that the issue of retaining walls was in "owner's care". However, when again pressed by Judge Mabey, Skipper said it was unusual to build homes and not the retaining walls as part of the same project.
The court heard the cut of concern measured as high as 5.5 metres and stretched about 70m in length between Lakes Boulevard and Aneta Way.
When asked who was in control of Bella Vista Homes, Skipper said Cancian was as "Danny was the one signing off jobs".
"It was a sale thing for him. When clients were in there, he said 'I will sign the job off, I will oversee the jobs'."
Cancian's defence counsel Bill Nabney questioned Skipper on where the cut measured 5.5m and asked him to point out on a map the location but he could not.
"Is it not the case that the highest point is actually 3m and not 5.5m high and that you are mistaken?" Nabney said.
Skipper replied: "My recollection is it was definitely higher than that. I recall 5m."
Skipper left Bella Vista Homes in around October or November that year, with his roofing company still owed $40,000.
The trial originally began on March 17 but was put on hold during the Covid-19 lockdown. The trial was expected to take five weeks. It began again on Monday and is expected to take at least another two weeks.
The trial continues.