An aerial view of emergency services working at the ruined
CTV building in central Christchurch. Photo by the New
The release this week of the third and final part of the
report from the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission of
Inquiry has provided answers about building failure and a raft
of recommendations for the future, but little in the way of
comfort or closure for bereaved families. The royal commission
of inquiry began in April 2011 and ended last month.
The report's final part contains the findings on the
catastrophic collapse of the six-storey Canterbury Television
building, which claimed 115 lives, the largest loss of life
in the February 22, 2011, quake in which a total of 185
people died and many were injured. It follows an eight-week
hearing in which more than 80 witnesses - including
survivors, witnesses, building designers, architects,
engineers, builders and inspectors - testified.
The commission found 20 years' worth of engineering,
construction and council errors led to the building's
collapse in the magnitude-6.3 earthquake. It concluded it
should never have received a permit from the Christchurch
City Council in 1986 as it was not built to the standards of
the time. It said the engineering design was deficient,
defects occurred during its construction, that construction
was poorly supervised, and after the September 2010 quake it
was ''green-stickered'' by council officials, with no advice
from an engineer. Failures at various stages were made by
structural engineer David Harding, construction manager
Gerald Shirtcliff, who failed to supervise construction at
the site, council buildings engineer Graeme Tapper, who
signed off the building despite concerns about the structural
design, and property manager John Drew, who commissioned an
engineer's report after the September 2010 quake but did not
follow up on the recommendation to order more detailed
But the report was most critical of principal engineer Alan
Reay, whose firm, Alan Reay Consultants Ltd, designed the
building. Dr Reay was criticised for tasking Mr Harding with
the design of the building despite his inexperience, failing
to adequately supervise him, not reviewing the design plans,
and convincing Mr Tapper to sign off the building.
The report is certainly a damning indictment on various
individuals and organisations.
Given the failings, it appears the building was an accident
waiting to happen. That confirmation has provided no comfort
for the families and friends of those killed in the collapse.
While the role of the commission was not to apportion
liability, unsurprisingly there are now calls for justice for
the victims by holding to account those involved in the
building's failings. Some are calling for those involved to
face manslaughter charges. As long as the possibility of
action by the Institution of Professional Engineers New
Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
and the police remains, there will be no closure for many of
the families, who find themselves facing a similar situation
to the families of the 29 miners killed in the Pike River
mine explosion in November 2010.
The royal commission investigating that tragedy also found
the disaster was preventable, with failures at every level.
Like the Pike River royal commission, the Canterbury
earthquakes commission has made a raft of recommendations.
These include changes to legislation, policies and practices
for preventing or minimising building failure in earthquakes,
the legal and best-practice requirements for managing
buildings after earthquakes, and the design of new buildings.
The IPENZ says it has already made changes in the light of
the CTV building's collapse, and will use the commission's
recommendations to further improve engineering practice.
While official Government comment on the report will not come
until next year, it is to be hoped steps to implement the
recommendations are made as soon as possible to ensure
lessons have been learned. That may be small comfort for
those still dealing with heartbreak, but is at least a way
for the country to move forward.
Finally, recognition should be made of the commissioners,
chairman Justice Mark Cooper, Sir Ronald Carter and Prof
Richard Fenwick, who have listened to months of harrowing
evidence and compiled a comprehensive, detailed report on one
of the darkest chapters in New Zealand history.