A geotechnical engineer has revealed his fears that lives were at risk after visiting the Bella Vista Homes development during construction.

Matthew Packard gave evidence on Wednesday in Tauranga District Court during the judge-alone trial of five parties involved in the failed Bella Vista Homes development in The Lakes.

Packard also told the court he gave recommendations to make properties safer and meet the Building Code but these were either ignored or slow to be completed.

... with large cuts, guys working under them, that's an unacceptable risk.

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 following the evacuation of 21 houses in various stages of completion in a sub-division in March 2018.

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The charges were brought by the Tauranga City Council and relate to the defendants allegedly carrying out building works which were not in accordance with the Building Act, in particular a building consent.

The now empty site where Bella Vista Homes were built at The Lakes. Photo / File
The now empty site where Bella Vista Homes were built at The Lakes. Photo / File

Packard read a statement to the court detailing that he became involved through his role as a chartered professional engineer with CMW Geosciences. This came after the council issued a stop-work notice, pending consultation with a geotechnical expert to assess lot sites at Aneta Way and Lakes Boulevard.

Packard told the court of meeting with Cameron and sometimes Cancian in site meetings known as "walkovers", and the concerns these prompted.

"In my view, at the Bella Vista site, there were a number of geotechnical issues, sloping stability associated with steep cuts and an apparent lack of appropriate sediment and stormwater controls.

"I was unsurprised the council had issued a stop-work [notice]."

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After Packard's first walkover on September 21, 2016, Packard said he issued four recommendations to Bella Vista including tidying up excavation cuts, immediate installation of a timber pole wall to 3 Aneta Way, setting up sediment and silt control measures and to divert overland water flow.

Homes in the area were in various stages of construction and heavy and prolonged rain had already resulted in erosion at the site, he said.

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Some Bella Vista homes were removed from the site following the company's demise. Photo / File
Some Bella Vista homes were removed from the site following the company's demise. Photo / File

When Packard returned for follow-up walkovers, he found only some of his recommendations had been made, such as silt fences.

Judge Paul Mabey QC put to Packard whether he had ever encountered a sub-division built so close to steep excavation.

"[It is] a severely excavated area of land which has multiple homes, almost vertical slopes and flat areas intended to be building sites. Have you ever come across a sub-division in your experience where that sort of wholesale excavation has been done - not by lot by lot but basically a broad range [of lots]?" Mabey said.

Packard said he had not, but he also had not been involved in a job where a single entity bought such a large parcel of land.

"In this instance, the houses were built but the walls weren't and one of my concerns, and number one concern, is loss of life (safety) - with large cuts, guys working under them, that's an unacceptable risk. Pumice doesn't move a little bit and stop. It just goes. There's no slight chance to get out if something goes wrong."

Packard said that while he was concerned, he assumed the lack of retaining walls would be included in resource consent for the sites.

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Homes had to be evacuated in the demise of the Bella Vista Homes development. Photo / File
Homes had to be evacuated in the demise of the Bella Vista Homes development. Photo / File

After further questioning from Mabey, Packard said it was possible to install suitable retaining walls after the homes were built "but it would be expensive".

"You are talking about craning over the houses and pumping concrete up there."

Prosecution counsel Richard Marchart put to Packard someone had told the council Packard had in fact signed off a visit to Bella Vista, to which Packard said, "absolutely not".

In March 2017, Bella Vista ended its relationship with CMW and continued with another firm which was already working on other Bella Vista sites.

"CMW was not unhappy that Bella Vista terminated our [agreement]. Bella Vista was a difficult client due to being slow to respond to our recommendations or recommendations weren't followed, in particular making cuts at the rear of platforms," Packard said.

"There were a number of payments we had to chase which was frustrating."

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Already through this trial, witnesses brought forward by the prosecution have told of not being paid, discount deals for Bella Vista sections and of an unorganised and chaotic work environment plagued by delays.

Bella Vista Homes went into liquidation in November 2017.

Geo-technical engineer Michael Trigger read a statement scathing of Cameron's engineering role within Bella Vista, saying Cameron passed inspections within some properties that should have failed.

Trigger also referred to the lack of walls despite homes being built.

"Bella Vista has no intention of building retaining walls, given it was not part of the building [consent]."

Trigger told the court that Cameron and Cancian had laid a complaint against him to Engineering New Zealand, presumably for a "lack of objectivity" but this was dismissed.

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