NZ earthquake: Calls for inquiry into faulty repair work
A call for an inquiry into faulty earthquake repair work has been ramped up following Monday's fatal Kaikoura quake that killed two people.
Christchurch lawyer Dr Duncan Webb presented a petition to a Parliamentary select committee on Wednesday calling for an inquiry into the framework used for earthquake repairs.
Dr Webb led the charge on the issue following the Canterbury earthquakes, with at least 12,000 remedial requests having been lodged with the Earthquake Commission (EQC).
"This problem is massive and it's not going away. It's on par with the leaky homes crisis. There are thousands and thousands, and everyday we're discovering more homes which are not repaired adequately," he said.
A report by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment sampled 101 homes and showed more than half had defects, with 32 homes non-compliant with the building code.
"The building code of course is about structural integrity...so you've got 30 percent of foundation repairs where the foundation doesn't meet the durability and strength requirement of the building code," Dr Webb said.
EQC chairman Sir Maarten Wevers also appeared before Parliament's select committee and accepts there have been "shortcomings" in some of the repair work but says there are a range of reasons for that.
"We have as a board taken a view that we did not want to do intrusive investigations into people's houses, and by that I mean people undertaking inspections and ripping the jib off the walls to see whether things behind the walls were okay. That would not have gone down well with customers and of course would have been expensive and disruptive," he said.
Mr Wevers has in the past provided advice to governments on establishing royal commissions of inquiry into various matters. He says an issue must be of "national importance" and it was up to the parliamentary select committee to form its own view as to whether the repairs debate met that standard.
"It seems to me that the hurdle for a royal commission of inquiry is quite high, but obviously the committee will form its own view on that."
Asked whether he thought an independent inquiry was at the least warranted he said it was not for EQC to comment.
"That may well be the case but I don't feel that it's for EQC to form a view on that," he said.
Much of the criticism has been aimed at the lack of qualified assessments said to have attributed to a repair methodology that was ultimately flawed.
"A major problem was the failure to properly identify the damage which existed, and a trigger here was the fact that in Christchurch there was a shortage of qualified people. So people who were hopelessly unqualified did these assessments," Dr Webb said.
Unconsented repairs, which although legal have also been called into question, though Sir Maarten Wevers argued it was not feasible for all cases to have gone through the consent process.
"If we had to place that extra load on the Canterbury local authorities we would have a very much longer tail now of homeowners who had far less done in repairing their homes."
Mr Wevers said the scale of the Canterbury earthquakes saw EQC face the third largest global insurance event ever and the scale of the repair work was significant.
"Those houses have been able to be repaired or rebuilt at no cost to the taxpayer, no cost to the council, no cost to the homeowner except for the excess; that is unprecedented globally. Now actually doing that to the right standard is enormously difficult and that's really what we're talking about," he said.
EQC has completed almost 68,000 home repairs, with around 12,000 remedial requests lodged.
Dr Webb says the number of homes requesting further repair should not be underestimated.
"The real need is to identify going forward what the appropriate systemic response is, what protections can be put in place to ensure that the insurer- or EQC-led repairs are done effectively and properly.
"Time has shown that the current framework has let people in Christchurch and elsewhere down.
"We need to ensure the framework is fit for purpose; currently it's not."
*NB - Dr Webb was recently appointed candidate for the Labour Party in Christchurch Central at next year's general election.