Man who designed Christchurch's CTV building accused of trying to dodge disciplinary processes

Search and rescue workers looking for people trapped in the Canterbury Television Building, after it collapsed in a major earthquake in 2011.
Search and rescue workers looking for people trapped in the Canterbury Television Building, after it collapsed in a major earthquake in 2011. Photo credit: AFP/ USAR

The man responsible for the design of the CTV building has been accused by the professional body for engineers of trying to dodge disciplinary processes.

One-hundred and 15 people were killed when the six storey Canterbury Television Building collapsed during the Christchurch Earthquake in February 2011.

Engineering New Zealand (ENZ - formerly known as the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand, or IPENZ) wants to investigate whether Dr Alan Reay should have better supervised his employee who designed the building.

The outcome of a judicial review hearing in the Wellington High Court on Monday was expected to decide whether that process could go ahead.

Lawyer Kristy McDonald said there was no explicit requirement under the 1986 rules, when the building was constructed, for her client to supervise his employee. She argued the agency had not specified which rule her client was meant to have broken, and had drawn the matter out over more than a decade.

"Alan Reay does not know what standard he is said to have breached, or how it is said his supervision failed to meet any such alleged standard."

She told Justice Radich there was no public interest in the disciplinary process continuing, nor any need to protect the public, as Dr Reay was now 82 and had retired from engineering. Her client had repeatedly tried to resolve the matter by offering to meet with the victims' families but was told it would not be appropriate, she said.

"This process is now futile, there is no legitimate further public interest ... the public interest has been addressed through the Royal Commission and the other inquiries," McDonald said.

"There is no need to determine what the standard was ... matters of standard are all irrelevant given that the rules and regulations have long since changed."

However, ENZ lawyer Linda Clark said the legal bid was an "eleventh-hour" attempt to delay or stop the proceedings, and it was in the public interest that they were concluded.

"This disciplinary process is set up to uphold standards in the profession and to enforce those standards in a neutral way," she said.

"With a view to holding the profession to account, being seen to hold the profession to account, and with a mind very firmly on the public interest - both in showing the public that professional standards mean something, [and] demonstrating to the public that even if the process takes a long time, the process will still be completed as intended."

The decision on whether any disciplinary process should be halted would be better made by a committee of engineers, rather than a judge, Clark said.

Justice Radich reserved his decision.

A 2012 Royal Commission Inquiry found engineer David Harding made fundamental errors in designing the building, and criticised Reay for handing sole responsibility for the design over to somebody so inexperienced. That same year, 54 family members and the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment's chief engineer made complaints about both men to the professional body.

A separate police investigation which concluded in November 2017 resulted in no criminal prosecution for the building's collapse.