Opening shot fired in test case war

For readers who have been following the test case through the Determination process it will come as no surprise that the Determination has been appealed to the District Court.   The appeal was filed in January and the process started with a case management conference, which was held on Friday 15 April.  The main outcome was that the parties would endeavour to deal with technical issues, identifying points of agreement and clearing up terminological differences, before another conference, which has been set for June. This process should allow the Court to more easily focus on the substantive points of difference.

Interestingly, the Council wants to do a detailed engineering assessment, at its own expense, of the building and enter this as evidence. As the appeal is a rehearing of the determination it will require leave to do so. A rehearing will normally just consider the evidence that was put before the initial decision maker.

The Council’s motive is not altogether clear. It designated the building as earthquake prone on the basis of an initial evaluation procedure (IEP) %NBS calculation. It had to be satisfied that the IEP provided a robust result. And if the Council were satisfied then, what difference will a full report, produced at the last minute, make?

Perhaps part of the answer lies with the statement made on the building IEP that was obtained under the Official Information Act before the Determination. It states:

This initial evaluation process has been carried out solely as a screening device in terms of the Wellington City Council’s (WCC’s) Earthquake-Prone Buildings Policy 2009 (Policy) and the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering document ‘Recommendations for the Assessment and Improvement of the Structural Performance of Buildings in Earthquakes’. It should not be relied on by anyone for any other purpose (our emphasis). Detailed inspections, and engineering judgements based on them, have not been undertaken, and they may lead to a different result or seismic grade. Council recommends owners obtain a detailed assessment for their building.”

 It is difficult to reconcile the statement in bold with the Council’s practice of designating earthquake-prone buildings on the basis of IEP %NBSs. A screening assessment is just that. A final decision is another purpose.

So perhaps this is a better late than never attempt to comply with what now appears to be Council policy. If  the  Council ‘s policy is that it should not rely on IEPs for final assessments then it should withdraw all the designations on buildings where the decision was based on an IEP result.

Also interesting is the fact that the above statement did not appear on the copy of the IEP the Council provided to MBIE as part of the Determination process.