Canterbury’s Royal Commission of Enquiry — what does this mean for builders?


As you may know, The Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Canterbury earthquakes is well underway, and the Commission published an interim report in October last year.
It is expected to release its final report in two stages — those matters relating specifically to Christchurch to be released in late June 2012, and the final report to be released in November 2012.
I am not sure to what extent you are up to date with where things are at but, given the importance of the enquiry and its consequential effects on the construction sector, I thought I would brief you all (very brief) on it so we all understand a bit more.

What is a Royal Commission?
A Royal Commission is the most serious response to an issue available to the New Zealand Government. It is independent from Government and reports to the Governor-General.
It investigates why a situation came about and then recommends policy or legislative changes. It can enquire into any matters it sees fit in order to get to the bottom of the issues.
It has powers of compulsion with regard to witnesses/documentation, but it is not able to determine legal liabilities.

What is the inquiry about? Well, fundamentally, the Commission is focusing on the performance of buildings in the Christchurch central business district during the earthquakes (September and December 2010, and February and June 2011), and the adequacy of the building regulatory framework, codes and standards into the future with a focus on central business districts New Zealand-wide.

So what is the Commission’s approach?
The Commission has been multi-faceted and proactive in gathering information and investigating issues. Since early May 2011, it has obtained evidence and information from technical experts, local and central government agencies, professional bodies and eyewitnesses and survivors of collapsed buildings.
It has also obtained information on a representative sample of buildings from across Christchurch on how they performed during the earthquakes.

In June 2011, the Commission called for expressions of interest and submissions on seismicity, soil/ground conditions, unreinforced masonry and earthquake-prone buildings and requirements, new building technologies, education, training and the organisation of the engineering profession, post-earthquake building assessments, and a SESOC practice note Design of Conventional Structural Systems.

Shortly the Commission will call for submissions on roles and responsibilities/building controls, and any remaining design code matters.
It has also indicated it may seek further submissions on post-earthquake assessments and the engineering profession (as above).
Public hearings have been held, and these are live-streamed, with videos being available on the Commission’s web site.
To date, hearings have covered seismicity, soils/ground conditions, unreinforced masonry and earthquake-prone buildings, individual buildings causing death, the Forsyth Barr and Hotel

Grand Chancellor buildings and, most recently, new building technologies.
Hearings are about to be held on the CTV building (June 25), post-earthquake building assessment (early August) and the regulatory framework.
When all is said and done, and the Commission has issued its report to the Governor-General, the Government will need to form a view and respond.

It is highly unlikely that nothing will change, and already work is underway so that a speedy Government response is delivered.
You can expect that changes will not just affect the Canterbury region, but have an impact right across the country, given we live in the “shaky isles” and that an earthquake can strike anywhere at any time.

• RMBF president Blair Cranston’s column returns next month.