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NZ Construction News (Jun / Jul 11) Let’s Learn From Leaky Lessons as Christchurch Rebuilds

01 Jul 2011

Let’s Learn From Leaky Lessons as Christchurch Rebuilds

Rob Gaimster – Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand (CCANZ)

Although changes to Kiwisaver, Working for Families and the student loan scheme grabbed more than their share of the headlines following the May 19 Budget, the strategy behind the numbers was driven by a need to resolve an unprecedented issue of national significance – rebuilding Christchurch (and the wider Canterbury region).

While Treasury estimates the damage caused by the two earthquakes to be around $15 billion, the direct cost that central government will face is projected at $8.8 billion.

The latter figure is comprised of two main components.  Firstly, $3.3 billion to recognise the Crown's Earthquake Commission (EQC) obligation ($1.5 billion for each event) and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) costs.  Secondly, $5.5 billion for central government's costs, such as its share of local government infrastructure, roads, insurance excesses on schools and hospitals, temporary housing and other policy responses.

As resources are rallied to reconstruct our second-largest city, a key contributor to the performance of the wider economy, we must ensure that decision making does not sacrifice long term infrastructure and building quality in favour of a ‘quick fix’.

While swift action is without doubt important, the fact that a fundamental commitment to excellence in design, materials, execution and approval processes must be non-negotiable is reinforced by another national tragedy – the leaky homes crisis.

Recent debate around the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services (Financial Assistance Package) Amendment Bill has brought this issue back into sharp focus, and the numbers are staggering.

It is estimated that more than 80,000 people are living in leaky homes, predominantly built between 1992 and 2005.  In the greater Auckland region alone, the council predicts a total number of claims around the 15,000 mark.  Nationwide the cost of repair will be approximately somewhere between $11 – $50 billion.

Having just had is second reading in Parliament, the Amendment Bill proposes a financial assistance package for owners of leaky homes that could become available in late 2011.

Under the package, eligible homeowners will receive a 25 percent contribution from the Government and may receive 25 percent from their local council. The contributions will be based on agreed actual repair costs.  Eligible home owners who use the scheme must agree not to sue contributing councils and the Crown, although they can still pursue other liable parties such as builders, developers and manufacturers of defective products. The government’s 25 percent contribution towards agreed repair costs is expected to cost a massive $1 billion over five years.

The lessons learnt from the leaky building crisis, and how they must be applied to the rebuilding of Christchurch, are currently nowhere more evident than in Wellington’s Ronald MacDonald House.

Built in 1991 to provide accommodation for the families of sick children being treated across the road at Wellington Hospital, the charity which runs the facility has spent more than $700,000 in repairs, and was faced with the prospect of a further $1.5 million outlay.

Demolition of the building will be begin shortly, with the charity missing out on any returns from a potential sale, and therefore having to rationalise the design of the replacement centre.

As the work of agencies charged with overseeing the Christchurch rebuild, in particular the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council, gathers momentum, balancing the need for swift short-term action with reasoned decisions that offer long-term benefits will be crucial.

Within this space the benefits afforded through concrete construction, the silent work horse of New Zealand’s urban development, must not be under-estimated and overlooked.  All too often, concrete is done once, and its beneficial attributes too easily forgotten.

At CCANZ we obviously think that it’s difficult to undervalue the ever-developing role of (reinforced) concrete as a readily available, cost effective and fundamental material in New Zealand’s building and construction industry. We’re also well aware of a shared responsibility to ensure that decisions made about building materials are always based on the best information about their respective performance attributes, under all possible conditions and in all possible situations.

Those are decisions that rest firmly in the hands of the people who have the most expertise – our structural engineers, our architects and designers, our major contractors and builders. Therefore, over the coming months CCANZ will be providing concrete answers that inform decision makers about the concrete choices they have and the concrete futures being created by our leading innovators. This is about maintaining a balanced flow of robustly researched information.

Key amongst which will be highlighting the need to apply the lessons learnt from the leaky building crisis, not just in terms of material, but across all aspects of the construction process, as the Garden City looks to regain and potentially surpass its former glory.