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CHB Mail - 2021-10-14

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Legal action over buildings canned

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The Central Hawke's Bay District Council has decided not to pursue legal action regarding the strengthening of the Waipukurau Centennial Library and the Waipukurau Memorial Hall. This decision was made at council's finance and infrastructure committee meeting last Thursday, following legal and engineering advice, and after weighing up the costs, benefits and risks of further action. Mayor of Central Hawke's Bay Alex Walker said: “This is not the result any of us wanted, but the time, money and risk involved in pursuing this matter is not in the best interests of our community.” Between 2014 and 2017, works were carried out on the Waipukurau Centennial Library and the Waipukurau Memorial Hall, which had previously been assessed as requiring earthquake strengthening. Council and community expectation was that both buildings had been strengthened to at least 67 per cent of the New Building Standard. In 2020, council obtained seismic assessments on facilities including the library and the hall, as part of the development of asset management plans for the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan. In May 2020, council closed the Waipukurau Library temporarily, after receiving engineering advice the building had significant structural vulnerabilities. A detailed seismic assessment found the library was less than 20 per cent of New Building Standard and therefore earthquake prone. The library has remained closed. The council obtained a seismic assessment of the memorial hall in July 2020, which was also found to be less than 20 per cent of the New Building Standard. Despite this, the hall remained open, with less severe structural issues than the library. Council undertook a search of historic photos and other documentation, identifying internal reports to the elected council of the time, stating that the work for both buildings included strengthening that would achieve at least 67 per cent of the New Building Standard. However, the documentary record is limited. Although there were a small number of key documents and correspondence with external parties, many of the core documents that would be otherwise expected to be available (including contractual and briefing documents), are not. Council sought legal advice about action against any individuals or entities involved in the 2014-2017 works to recover any losses, and the merits of any legal claims, and the associated risks and costs of taking action. Council also obtained a preliminary expert engineering opinion about what design and build work was carried out, and whether that work carried out satisfied the requisite standard of care. The decision to not proceed with any further legal process was made in a public excluded agenda item at the finance and infrastructure committee meeting, at which council formally received the legal advice and independent engineering review, both of which remain confidential and privileged. Council chief executive Monique Davidson said council had carefully considered the information available to proceed with any legal claim “including the costs of litigation, the potential compensation that could be sought, the likely cost of remediation and the associated risks for each building”. “On the balance of these factors and the advice received, council has confirmed it will not proceed with any further legal processes.” Walker said: “In releasing this statement, council seeks to provide the most transparent view of the reality that we face in these matters as we can, within the constraints of the legal privilege that we need to work within. “Council shares the frustration that our community has on this matter and thanks them for their patience as we have worked through this process. The ultimate decision is also frustrating, but we are now focused on how we front up to making sensible future investment in these buildings. “This will be part of a strategic review of all council facilities, buildings, land and reserves over the coming six months. We continue to be committed to a ‘no band-aids' approach to investment, which includes taking the time to make good decisions, well-placed for the future.”

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