Council fails to spot 10 serious flaws in Christchurch high-rise

The Christchurch City Council consented a structural design for an eight-storey building that a rookie engineer could tell at a glance was flawed.

The conclusion flows from a report released today by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about 230 High St, an eight-storey building in High St in central Christchurch.

The report, called a determination, found the building had at least 10 serious flaws that could compromise its ability to withstand an earthquake.

The council issued consents for the building in stages between 2015 and 2017. The design was peer reviewed and the building passed a superstructure inspection in November 2017.

Yet a rookie engineer working for Aurecon New Zealand sounded the alarm after he walked past the construction site soon afterwards. His firm then inspected the design drawings and calculations and warned the council.

The council's failure to detect the difficulties with the design raises questions about whether it can be trusted to ensure high rises in Christchurch do not suffer from the sort of faulty engineering design work that ultimately contributed to the collapse of the CTV building with the loss of 115 lives in 2011.

The council put a positive spin on the MBIE report on Thursday.

Council head of building consenting Robert Wright praised the Aurecon engineer who identified the building issues.

He said it was simplistic to suggest a rookie graduate spotted flaws missed by council professionals.

"One of the outcomes of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Canterbury Earthquake was a change to the Code of Ethical Conduct for Engineers. They are now obligated to report to the relevant regulator any issue with a building that they believe might result in adverse consequences.

Ten structural aspects of 230 High St - the seven-level building with blue-tinted glass pictured centre - do not comply with the building code.
Ten structural aspects of 230 High St - the seven-level building with blue-tinted glass pictured centre - do not comply with the building code.

"This is exactly what happened in this case which shows that engineers are taking their ethical responsibilities seriously."

He said code compliance certificates would not be issued for the remainder of the building.

"It will be up to the owner of the building to decide what steps they will take to rectify the issues identified in MBIE's determination," he said.

In September the council told MBIE it had "reasonably relied on the opinion of appropriately qualified and experienced professionals in granting the building consent".

It accepted the determination "as it is based on the opinions of a further group of appropriately qualified and experienced professional, and those opinions have been thoroughly discussed.

The building has stood empty since about September last year and it remains unclear what options the owners, Rockwell E & C Ltd, a company owned by Christchurch businessman Jinho Kwon, have. One at least is to deconstruct the building.

Based on the work of two expert assessors, the determination said 10 out of 13 structural aspects highlighted by Aurecon did not comply with the building code.

These included:

- A column splice was inadequate for the size of the column.

- A modified brace on ground level was potentially dangerous.

- The building's design underestimated its seismic loads by around 25 per cent.

- A column on one of the steel grids of the superstructure was overloaded by five times.

- Demands on the columns appeared to be 10 times the maximum compression pile capacities.

- Bolts holding down a bracing column were insufficient.

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