17 Apr 2013

Ministry sues building companies over leaky schools

8:51 pm on 17 April 2013

The Ministry of Education is going to court over the huge repair bill it is facing for leaky school buildings.

On Wednesday, it announced it has lodged a claim in the High Court against manufacturers of wall claddings used in the leaky buildings.

The ministry said repairs are under way to more than 800 buildings at about 300 schools with the total cost estimated at $1.5 billion.

It did not name the companies involved, but James Hardie has confirmed it is one of them.

The Australian firm temporarily suspended trading in its shares on Wednesday afternoon, saying the legal action affects two of its units. Its stock closed at $A9.77 per share on Tuesday.

The Principals' Federation and the Secondary Principals' Association said they are happy with the ministry's action.

Federation president Philip Harding said the Government should not have to waste money on repairs for buildings that should never have leaked in the first place.

"Leaky buildings is diverting money from building new projects that schools desperately need, rebuilding (earthquake-hit) Christchurch and all the other priorities that we have.

"It's been totally wasted on rebuilding and fixing up leaky buildings - it's heart-breaking."

Mr Harding said it has not been easy for schools to see their new buildings torn down.

A lawyer specialising in leaky homes believes the Education Ministry's case will take years to work its way through the courts.

Paul Grimshaw told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme it's likely that James Hardie will fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

"It's certainly got a long road ahead of it. I think that even if James Hardie did not succeed in the first instance, they would go through the Court of Appeal, through the Supreme Court, and certainly the case will take a number of years."

Mr Grimshaw said the ministry will have to prove that the cladding was deficient and not installed properly.