Council’s compliance cock-up

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Queenstown’s council has been ducking its own building rules for two decades.

A shocking internal audit completed early last year revealed 201 buildings and structures on council land didn’t have final building code sign-off.

That’s a bad look for the body which polices the district’s building compliance.

It also jeopardises insurance payouts if shoddy work damages buildings.

According to a council list of buildings – posted on Mountain Scene’s website today – the earliest case is from 1993, with 38 others dating back to the 1990s.

For years, the council has ignored letters from its own building services section requiring final code sign-off for high-profile buildings.

Council boss Adam Feeley assures the public’s not in any danger, that most of the problems are administrative.

His proof is that council has quickly whittled down that original 201 to 122 – 101 that are still non-compliant and 21 with code of compliance pending.

Feeley says: “Even though lots of other councils are probably in the same boat, it’s not a good look to be the building regulator and not have tidied up your own house.”

He agrees the council’s lucky more worrying issues haven’t emerged.

The list of non-compliant buildings contains reservoirs, retaining walls and bridges. There’s also reference to fire stations in Queenstown, Glenorchy and Kingston, a Queenstown wharf extension, a Kelvin Heights jetty and a
Kingston boat ramp.

Many buildings aren’t owned by the council.

However, high-profile council buildings still don’t entirely comply, including: the council’s Queenstown headquarters, Queenstown Events Centre, Lake Hayes Pavilion, Queenstown Memorial Centre, Wanaka Art Centre, Queenstown Arts Centres and Cardrona Hall.

The internal audit has revealed one Queenstown arts centre building in Stanley Street is earthquake-prone.

Last year, the council temporarily closed Wanaka’s pool – engineered by disgraced Southland designer Tony Major – to do strengthening work, after worries it would collapse in a big shake.

The council’s property portfolio stands at 559 properties, valued at $470 million, including improvements.

Feeley says the compliance saga started in late 2012. It was discovered – from a council letter written to itself – the upgraded Queenstown Memorial Centre didn’t have code of compliance.

A wider audit then identified the scale of the problem.

Feeley says having Lakes Environmental as a separate entity is a possible cause of the compliance cock-up – but he’s still scratching his head as to how it happened.

“We’ve been dealing with it on a priority basis and everything we’ve dealt with to date has not been an issue of anything other than administrative tidying up.”

Changes have been made to stamp out lax compliance.

Previously, consents were sent to building owners. Now council must be notified and approve consents.

A council staffer is now responsible for ensuring code of compliance certificates are issued for structures on council land.

These issues come to light today after Mountain Scene requested a copy of a secret agenda for last October’s audit and risk committee meeting agenda.

In it, council’s commercial boss Myles Lind wrote about the property review, warning non-compliance could hurt its reputation and lead to insurance difficulties.

Property advisory firm Hampton Jones is reviewing and updating the council’s maintenance programme.

david@scene.co.nz