It is said that history repeats itself – does it not?! However, one might imagine that intelligent people and ‘advanced’ nations might learn from their previous mistakes and again I sit and watch another New Zealand man-made disaster appearing on the horizon at a rapid rate of knots. In my book, The Insurance Aftershock: The Christchurch Fiasco Post-Earthquake 2010-2016 (2nd Edition) I predicted the insurance nightmare which currently has the City firmly in its grip and the huge earthquake repair fiasco leading to deadly consequences, the wheels are already firmly in motion. In fact it’s already here.
The reports are flooding in of repairs which are unsatisfactory. I am more and more frequently hearing stories about builders who have taken short cuts, glossed over damage, hidden under a coat of paint. There is an impression in the community that builders are pocketing surpluses of EQC payouts by completing the job for as little as possible, using doubtful methodologies.
There is no doubt that in a few years time, when people go looking for someone to hold accountable – the organizations responsible will have disappeared. Southern Response is to be wound up, EQC and its alliance with Fletcher Construction (EQR) are likely to have gone as well, along with many of the private construction firms responsible for repairs and rebuilds. Escape routes are doubtless already being planned.
History informs us that the leaky building epidemic in New Zealand did not happen by accident. It is well recorded and well understood. Nor will the Christchurch repair fiasco happen by accident. It will and is being caused by government ‘mismanagement’ – which has taken place over the last five and a half years. Whether it is accidental or not is a moot point.
Just like the leaky building fiasco – the government-funded agencies, Housing New Zealand, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Engineering Advisory Group (MBIE) and the Building Research Association of NZ (BRANZ), are responsible for the approved and endorsed new low-cost methods of repairs in the form of MBIE Guidelines. These are certainly likely to have a devastating impact on the quality of repairs to damaged homes in Christchurch. Just like the Christchurch repair fiasco, the leaky homes crisis followed deregulation of the building practice, where a resulting lack of rules meant problems with design and products left thousands of homeowners with serious and costly ongoing problems.
Since the first earthquake in Canterbury in September 2010, the infamous MBIE Guidelines have been amended several times with more amendments to follow, producing cheaper and less adequate repair solutions. Cheaper for EQC, the contractor and ultimately the Government. The insurers jumped on the wagon for use with ‘over-the-cap repairs’ as well – which is another issue entirely. Certainly absolutely no benefits to the homeowner were achieved by use of these techniques. The stories of failure are already out there. Some of these “new and innovative methods of repair“ solutions have no realistic chance of providing an adequate long term repair for the home or the future homeowner and some have failed already. Any building work in relation to houses including removal and replacement of foundations and sub-soil services, must comply with the current New Zealand Building Code, and include proper engineered consideration for the ‘actual ground conditions’, and foundations engineered to site-specific geological investigation.
MBIE and BRANZ continue to endorse the idea of adulterating repairs in these ways just as they did when they endorsed porous cladding to untreated timber framing, prior to the leaky home fiasco. Their proposed faulty practices fly in the face of proven and well-understood building methodologies which are clearly outlined in the Building Code and Act.
Even more concerning is that post-disaster recovery remains inefficient and poorly managed. Clearly the ‘authorities’ are unaware of the ‘Build Back Better’ slogan which emerged during the multi-national recovery effort following the Indian Ocean Tsunami as the need to improve current reconstruction and recovery practices and generate safer communities emerged. Reconstruction and recovery should not be about quick fixes which replicate or worsen existing vulnerabilities within the community – we have seen this clearly in the non-adherence to design and construction of policies for building and infrastructure; overruling local government agencies and neglecting vulnerable groups (e.g. the elderly) in our community.
“Fletcher downgrade on slow Canterbury rebuild”: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11251799
Couple Annoyed at quality of repairs, Charles Anderson, Christchurch Press, March 14, 2014.
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