The Royal Commission has published the transcript of the first day of the Roles and Responsibilities hearing held on the 11th of September. The transcript can be downloaded from here.
The first submitter to be heard was John Scarry, a structural engineer who, for some years, has been critical of the quality of structural engineering and building construction in New Zealand. The following is from the beginning of his submission (page 7):
New Zealand can only claim to lead the world in seismic engineering in the same way that an army could claim to be undefeated because it has never fought a war. As soon as a major modern New Zealand city was hit with a decent seismic event, a very short one, devastation was caused. Of something like 200 buildings over five storeys tall in the 15 CBD, at least 100 will definitely be demolished and many of the rest may still be. To claim that except for the CTV building all modern post-1982 buildings performed their life safety function is at best disingenuous. That claim was fair only if all of these buildings had performed as intended, forming perfect plastic hinges at the ends of 20 beams and at the bottom of columns and shear walls. That did not happen. Most of them developed all sorts of potentially catastrophic failure modes that simply were not meant to occur, and if the earthquake had been a big one from the main Alpine Fault, less intense than the 22nd of February 2011, but of two minutes’ duration, there would've been 25 wholesale collapses. Appalling standards of diaphragm design and construction and the brittleness of welded wire mesh form the major part of the warnings I issued in 2002, particularly in the first version of my open letter which I will only now show to people in camera. These concerns were dismissed, but I have been fully vindicated by the 30 earthquakes of 2011. I have tried for 10 years to get these issues addressed, only to be ignored, or in the case of IPENZ deliberately subverted. Only now is brittle mesh slowly being banned. Progress on diaphragms is negligible and these are just the tip of the icebergs of the dangers I have raised.
After starting, after I started drafting my open letter the O’Sullivan brothers’ revelations on leaky buildings came out. Together these led to the re-drafting of the Building Act. Unfortunately the people at the Ministry of Economic Development charged with the task under Peter Mumford simply did not know what they were doing and ignored all of my submissions, suggestions and warnings. The Act has been a disaster. The worst leaky buildings have almost been dealt with but the rest are still in absolute crisis. One of the most important reforms I pushed for was a strong technically competent building authority. Instead we got the Department of Building and Housing, described recently by an engineer who is certainly no ally of mine as having two and a half structural engineers. The senior management is full of ex-Treasury, MED, local government, WINZ and Department of Social Welfare bureaucrats.
Reading his comments, especially as he correlates bad earthquake design and construction with the incompetence discovered through the leaky building disaster, is both fascinating and depressing.