Wairarapa Hospital could fail in a major earthquake, court told

7:10 pm on 31 July 2023
Wairarapa Hospital. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa Hospital serves about 50,000 people and was intended to provide emergency services after a major earthquake, but a legal case is now questioning the building's strength. Photo: Supplied

Wairarapa Hospital could be at risk of failing in a major earthquake, with almost 3000 structural defects found in the building, which does not comply with the building code, Wellington High Court has heard.

Te Whatu Ora (formerly Wairarapa DHB) has claimed almost $90 million in damages against Masterton District Council, to remedy defects to the hospital building, plus interest and costs. Their allegations relate to the design and inspection process, construction defects, and the issuing of a compliance code, among other things.

Masterton District Council was defending the claim. But there are questions before the court about whether the claim itself is out of time.

The four-week hearing started in the Wellington High Court on Monday 31 July.

The claim the building could be structurally vulnerable to failing in a major earthquake was made in opening submissions to the court.

Te Whatu Ora's lawyer Les Taylor KC said the hospital was the only public hospital in the Wairarapa, and served about 50,000 people.

"It's also worth noting that Masterton is located in an area of higher seismic activity in New Zealand. There is also evidence which indicates that the site of the hospital itself is on a fault or a fault line, although the investigations haven't been able to find precisely where that faultline is. But the evidence, such as it is, indicates that it is on a fault line or very close to a fault line in the Wairarapa District," Taylor said.

"That was something that was known and identified by the council during the resource consent process for the hospital."

The hospital had been intended to function after a disaster, so full emergency services could be provided after a significant earthquake.

But, Taylor said despite specific safety requirements, especially the requirement the hospital be designed to withstand a one-in-a- hundred-year earthquake and remain functional immediately or very soon after such a quake, the building had significant defects.

Les Taylor KC gives his opening submissions on behalf of Whatu Ora, to the High Court in Wellington, on Monday, 31 July, 2023.

Les Taylor KC gives his opening submissions on behalf of Whatu Ora, to the High Court in Wellington, on Monday. Photo: Local Democracy Reporting/ Sue Teodoro

"What has been found is that the hospital suffers from significant seismic defects. It does not comply with the building code.

"In the event of a major earthquake, the hospital is likely to sustain significant damage to structural elements so that post-disaster medical services would be unlikely to be provided after a major earthquake.

"Even after a relatively moderate earthquake there would likely be loss of some functions in the hospital."

There were about 3000 known seismic structural defects in the building, the court heard.

"I say 'known' because those are the ones that have been identified. But the evidence will be that there are likely a lot more defects that haven't been able to be seen simply because of access to those areas of the hospital," Taylor said.

The claims relate to alleged defects in the construction and consenting process for Wairarapa Hospital between 2004 and 2007, and the existence of a relevant Code Compliance Certificate (CCC).

An entry relating to a CCC was made in the council's computer system, dated January 2011.

Neither the council nor Te Whatu Ora wanted to comment, on the basis the litigation was ongoing.

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