22 Apr 2015

Developer complains of 'pedantic' inspectors

8:42 am on 22 April 2015

Christchurch council building inspectors are accused of being pedantic and overly cautious by one of the city's biggest property developers.

The rebuild of the Christchurch CBD.

The rebuild of the Christchurch CBD. Photo: 123rf

Forty percent of newly completed commercial buildings failed their final inspection in March, slightly fewer than in January, when 50 percent of buildings failed.

Developer Antony Gough said a building failed its final inspection because a staircase was 1mm outside the permitted design.

"You've got to say how far do you go. We think they're being a little bit pedantic - and I dare say forty percent failure rate is telling exactly the same story as I've experienced," said Mr Gough.

Another of his buildings was failed because fire exits were not the required eight metres apart.

The solution the council was happy to sign off on involved a second fire escape that could be accessed only though a maze of corridors. Mr Gough said this did not lend itself to making a quick escape.

"Creating a maze is actually the wrong solution, though technically it's the right solution as far as the codes would require of me.

"So I say, lets take a pragmatic view, and say what are we trying to achieve here. At the moment we're getting a very hard nosed attitude [of] 'I'm sorry it's out of our hands'.

"I don't believe it is actually out of their hands."

Mr Gough said designs signed off by inspectors in Auckland are being turned down in Christchurch and the overly cautious approach could slow the rebuild.

Another developer, Ernest Duval, said delays caused by failing a final inspection could prove costly.

"At that point in the construction process the developer has spent most of his money, he's paying interest on that money, so he's very very keen to get code compliance so that he can hand the building over to his tenant so he can start receiving rent.

"So at that point in the construction process it's very expensive to hold the building on a daily basis."

Tension 'inevitable'

Minister of Building and Housing Nick Smith said there was an inevitable tension around the quality of building inspections, given the massive level of development going on in Christchurch.

Dr Smith said he was receiving as many complaints about inspections not being tough enough.

Given about 10 times the average amount of building work was going on in Christchurch there were bound to be some issues, he said.

"I'm not dismissing these concerns, I'm simply saying that we need to improve the dialogue between the development community and the council to get this process moving as smoothly as possible.

"The rebuild energy from the residential area where we're largely on top into now the massive and more complex commercial build."

Trying to be practical

Christchurch City Council manager of commercial consents Leonie Ray said inspectors are only human and consistency is always going to be a problem.

"They don't all think the same, and some of them are very much letter of the law, you know, 'this is what it says in the act and this is what I expect'.

"But we are finding that inspectors getting to know the people on site helps. That rapport and understanding the pressures they're under. So hopefully we can be a bit more user friendly."

Leonie Ray said if a developer believed an inspector had been unreasonable they could always pick up the phone and talk to their manager.

"We're trying to be practical. I went out on site with an inspector and the barrier was a few millimetres out and you know, what's the risk here? In actual fact it wasn't going to be busy, there wasn't likely to be lots of children in the building.

"Those sorts of things you think, changing it by a couple of millimetres probably isn't going to make a lot of difference."

Ms Ray said new fire and accessibility standards were catching out a number of builders, and the council had been holding seminars to bring them up to speed and improve their pass rates.

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