A building inspector has admitted in court that he approved inspections for the beleaguered Bella Vista development that should have failed.
Giving evidence in the Tauranga District Court in the trial for five parties charged over the failed development, inspector Leon Hume also said Tauranga City Council staff had been instructed to go "easy" on the director of Bella Vista Homes Limited, Danny Cancian, because he was suing the council at the time.
The trial restarted today after it was put on hold in March due to Covid-19.
Bella Vista Homes Limited, The Engineer Limited, their respective directors Cancian and Bruce Cameron, plus bricklayer Darrel Joseph, are defending a raft of charges.
The charges laid by the council relate to the defendants allegedly carrying out building works which were not in accordance with the Building Act, in particular a building consent.
The court heard Hume carried out 53 inspections on Bella Vista homes. Of those, seven failed and 35 were passed. He now works for the Hamilton City Council.
I said to them, 'we shouldn't do this'.
In his testimony, Hume said he passed building inspections in the Bella Vista development that should have actually failed.
When questioned by Judge Paul Mabey, QC, Hume confirmed there had been instructions from the council to go "easy" on Cancian at a time when he was suing them.
"We were told to be a little bit more lenient on how many inspections we failed."
Hume said he had developed a sense of trust with the site supervisor and would often pass a building on the condition some work that still needed to be done would be completed by the time of the next inspection.
"It was just things that were minor, that were not life-threatening."
When prosecution counsel Richard Marchant asked Hume who instructed him, and the rest of the building inspection team, to consider leniency when assessing Bella Vista homes, he named former council building services manager Patrick Schofield.
Hume said that in retrospect, he would never pass those inspections now.
"It has caused me a lot of stress. I wish I'd just failed them."
Under cross-examination from Cancian's defence counsel, Bill Nabney, Hume confirmed the work required for inspections to pass was done.
"So the truth of that matter is the work you passed at the time, it was up to standard in terms of the consent," Nabney said.
Schofield told the court there had been a notable change in how building services were run after the council's chief executive, Garry Poole, and general manager, Rebecca Perritt, wanted things to become more customer-focused.
Schofield said he was aware inspectors were contemplating issuing a Notice to Fix on Bella Vista Homes but this did not eventuate following Poole's and Perritt's involvement.
"The general manager ... between her and the CEO wanted to facilitate the process and be more customer-centric."
Schofield admitted this likely influenced his decision-making surrounding Cancian.
Schofield told the court the Bella Vista development was plagued with issues, mostly involving planning and engineering. He gave an example of an inspection that was failed because the foundation was undermined.
Meetings between senior management of both the council and Bella Vista were held and building inspector Mark Bell was appointed as the single point of contact.
"I said to them, 'We shouldn't do this'," Schofield said.
Schofield said there was a conflict of interest as Bell's daughter was having a house built in the area by Bella Vista.
Under cross-examination, Nabney put to Schofield that he had not actually seen the claim Cancian reportedly made against the council, potentially involving Schofield himself.
Scholfield replied that he did not know, he had been told by Perritt that there was one.
A notice to fix is a statutory notice requiring a person to remedy a breach of the Building Act 2004 or regulations under that act.
The council brought charges against the five defendants after 21 houses in various stages of completion in The Lakes were evacuated in March 2018.
The council has alleged block foundation walls at 297, 297A, 299, 301, 301A, and 307 Lakes Boulevard were not constructed in accordance with approved plans.
The trial is expected to take three weeks.