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Friday, May 6, 2011

Engineers 'have too much say' in quake inquiry

Engineers 'have too much say' in quake inquiry

Last updated 05:00 05/05/2011
Christchurch buildings performed appallingly in the February earthquake and attempts to reform building quake standards are being subverted by the industry, an Auckland structural engineer says.

John Scarry said many post-1976 buildings had been exposed by the February 22 quake.

"Dozens of major modern buildings are leaning over and must be demolished," he said.

Blaming the failure of modern building on liquefaction was a "crock" as the risk had been known by engineers since the 1960s.

The failures were the result of bad engineering practices that required urgent reform, he said.

Scarry said the royal commission of inquiry into building failures during the quake would be a "whitewash".

He was concerned that the engineering industry was too heavily represented on the commission.

"Compare this with the royal commission into the Pike River disaster. There is no person from the New Zealand mining industry on that commission."

Scarry has previously petitioned the Government for changes to structural engineering standards, saying many modern multi-storey buildings would not support their weight in a major quake.

In 2003, his concerns sparked a Building Industry Authority inquiry that found structural engineering standards had declined over the past 20 years and condemned "the current loose regulatory environment". The authority found loose standards could potentially endanger lives during a quake.

New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering chief executive Win Clark said that while Scarry raised some valid points, his views were extreme and unrealistic.

"Certainly we can alway do things better," he said.

In the face of a quake that far exceeded what was anticipated in the building code, most modern buildings had stood up well, he said.

"The Building Code is for the building not to collapse so people can get out safely.

"That a building might come down later is just a fact of life."

The code would probably be toughened as a result of the Christchurch quake, he said.

Clark said he was comfortable with the composition of the royal commission.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said there was no inherent conflict of interest for commission members, and it was their engineering experience that made them valuable.

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