Calls for accountability over failure of sea wall

The St Clair sea wall repairs near completion. Photo by Craig Baxter.
The St Clair sea wall repairs near completion. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Calls for accountability were met with pleas for a trial before a hanging as Dunedin city councillors considered the failure of the St Clair sea wall yesterday.

The debate came as councillors approved plans to recruit an international consultant to help with sea wall repair plans, following repeated damage culminating in the emergence of sinkholes in May.

The review was expected to cost the council up to $150,000 and take three months, but was endorsed by councillors at yesterday's Dunedin City Council infrastructure services committee meeting.

That followed a report by council transportation operations manager Graeme Hamilton that identified issues to be considered, from the continued structural integrity of the wall to the benefits of an offshore groyne.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis saw red over the failure to mention the need for accountability in the report, and demanded it be a priority of the review.

Warnings at the time the wall's design was ''incompetent'' had been ignored, and the project had ended up costing ratepayers $6 million, Cr Vandervis said.

''Every single aspect of this project has been compromised and we should have had a much harder look at responsibility way before now,'' he said.

Mr Hamilton said accountability could ''certainly'' be considered, but whether the design or those who accepted it were to blame was difficult to say.

That prompted Mayor Dave Cull to urge caution, saying the review needed to establish the facts before blame could be apportioned.

''We should be having a trial before we have a hanging,'' he said.

The sea wall was designed by Duffill Watts and King, which later merged with Commes Consulting in Australia to become CPG, before morphing again to become Spiire late last year.

The council struck a deal with Spiire earlier this year to split the estimated $250,000 repair bill to fix earlier damage to stairs and a ramp.

The council had opted for the deal rather than expensive and risky court action, but neither party had accepted liability for the wall's faults.

Mr Hamilton indicated last month the council could seek further costs from Spiire if the design was found to have contributed to the sinkholes.

Committee chairman Cr Andrew Noone told yesterday's meeting the deal with Spiire related to the failure of the steps and ramp, but the council now had ''a bigger picture of failure'' to consider.

Most councillors yesterday favoured the review, although Cr John Bezett urged his colleagues to ''get on with it''.

He predicted finding a way to retain sand at St Clair Beach - and the cost of doing so - would be the ''nub'' of the issue.

The council needed the facts as quickly as possible, but it would be up to ratepayers to decide if the ''serious'' costs that came with it were acceptable, he said.

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