22 May 2019

Real estate agent says he was kept in dark about concerns over Christchurch building

8:28 pm on 22 May 2019

A real estate agent says the Christchurch City Council was "unprofessional" not to advise him of earthquake design concerns at a new central city building.

230 High Street Christchurch is the narrow, glass-fronted building in the centre.

230 High Street Christchurch is the narrow, glass-fronted building in the centre. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Three engineering companies have raised multiple serious concerns with the steel frame, foundations, piles and a column at the unoccupied building in the main shopping precinct.

Chris Harding of JLL marketed 230 High Street last July.

He was told it was awaiting a final certificate of code compliance, but he said neither the developer, Hyang Kim, or the city council told him they were dealing with serious seismic concerns.

"I would have thought there would be some disclosure," Mr Harding said.

Real Estate Authority rules say agents should be told by a property's seller "everything they know, when they know it", and he had not been.

230 High Street Christchurch is the narrow, glass-fronted building in the centre.

230 High Street, Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

Mr Harding said he pulled back from marketing when he learned of consenting issues - but he has never heard from the council about the building.

Mr Kim has not responded to requests for comment.

A report leaked to RNZ shows it took the city council nine months, until last August, to get a peer review by Holmes Consulting that confirmed initial fears raised by independent engineer Aurecon in late 2017.

Aurecon has been approached for comment.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said Christchurch City Council was responsible for "considering information relating to the building and its safety".

"Any actions needed to be taken to ensure public safety under the Building Act will be considered by the council," Katie Gordon from the ministry determinations unit said in a statement.

Her unit is now looking at what to do next via its quasi-judicial determinations process.

This process was triggered by the council last November, after the original engineer, Seismotech Consulting, disputed Aurecon's and Holmes' identification of numerous non-compliant designs.

The council's manager of consenting and compliance Leonie Rae said there was no issue of immediate risk to the public.

"While the concerns regarding the building's level of compliance with the current building code have been acknowledged, we do not see this, nor has any suggestion been made, that the building poses any immediate risk to the public or is even dangerous in the normal course of events," she said in a statement.

"This is seen as no different to a number of buildings throughout the city which do not meet the current building code compliance level due to their age or construction as there is throughout other cities in the country."

The nine-month gap between Aurecon's warning and a council-ordered review was down to discussions between engineers, who remained in dispute.

The original design was "undertaken by an experienced Chartered Professional Engineer and supported by an independent peer review from another experienced Chartered Professional Engineer," Ms Rae said.

"At consent application time, a regulatory review was undertaken by a third Chartered Professional Engineer."

Society of Earthquake Engineers president David Whittaker declined to comment because he works for Beca.

Engineering New Zealand said the designer of the building had not come to its notice before.

Susan Freeman-Greene of Engineering New Zealand said it was the first they had heard about the case.

However, she said they were pushing to introduce a higher bar for some types of work.

"We think that for certain types of safety critical engineering work there needs to be a licence that has additional criteria satisified so that everyone has assurance that engineers can carry out a particular type of work," she said.

Society of Structural Engineers has so far not commented.