A key designer of Bella Vista homes has revealed clients were signing contracts for home designs they didn't realise were incomplete, non-compliant and still being worked on.
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.
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Architectural designer and drafter Nicola Davis told the court today that Bella Vista clients were being told their home's design plans were "with council" for consent when in fact they were still being worked on and remedied by her.
"The issue for me was that there was a client with a contract and build process, that I had to then present things that weren't visually allowed in what was given, such as retaining walls. I had to add those things. My concern was they hadn't been allowed for in the build cost," she said.
We knew they were lacking information.
The court heard Davis began working for Bella Vista as a contractor in January 2017 when she was presented with existing designs for homes in Lakes Boulevard and Aneta Way . Some were already under construction and needing remedial or amendment work.
Property plans were too close together, too close to the boundary or missing important information such as retaining walls or neighbour consent, she said.
The court heard Davis was instructed to get designs to the council that were incomplete because the concept plans had already been signed off with the owners. However, because the designs were incomplete, the council requested up to 87 RFIs (requests for further information) in return - prompting upset from Cancian.
When asked by prosecution counsel Richard Marchant what the reaction to the number of RFIs was at Bella Vista, Davis said there was "some emotion" and the feeling that the council had a vendetta against them. However, the number of RFIs Bella Vista was receiving, in her 13 year-career, was mostly standard or to be expected from the incomplete applications. The 87 was an exception.
"We were to present the concept drawings to council to get them built ... it felt like it was already done, but it hadn't been done ... We knew they were lacking information."
Davis also revealed she had been approached by Cancian to sign off on an amended design she had not authored but she refused "because signing off on it puts my LBP (Licensed Building Practitioner certification) on it which is taking responsibility for it".
When asked by Marchant whether she had been forced to make changes she wasn't happy with, Davis replied: "I'd been quite strong in protecting myself and doing things correctly".
Davis said she found Cancian's management style as "unorthodox", "very abrupt" and "very bullying".
"I felt he was trying to do things in the way that was sort of out of the norm, in an entrepreneurial way, which is welcomed but I guess at the same time, things need to be done [correctly] for a reason."
Under cross-examination from defence counsel Bill Nabney, Davis said 87 RFIs was "unusual".
Nabney put to Davis: "Mr Cancian never made you make any changes did he?"
She responded, "Only because I was smart enough."
When questioned by Nabney as to whether she had been bullied by Cancian, Davis said she believed she had been and that she had never experienced that before in her career despite being a female in a male-dominated industry.
Former Bella Vista project manager Ian Minnell also testified, saying he was "very concerned" at the absence of retaining walls at the Lakes Boulevard development.
"It needed to be built before we started the homes at the bottom, otherwise there was no way we would get the vehicles in to construct those homes."
Minnell was fired from his role after siting some homes in the wrong places, which Davis later helped to remedy.
The court heard Minnell raised his concerns at the absence of retaining walls with Cancian but was told "we weren't building those at that time". The focus was on building the houses, he said.
Minnell estimated the retaining wall would need to reach as high as 8 metres in parts. He told the court other homeowners in the area often questioned when the walls would be built.
The court heard Minnell had seen consented drawing plans that showed retaining walls as part of the design.
The trial continues.