'In the event of a fire, injury or death ... is likely'

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 20 June 2017

Auckland Council has allowed a commercial CBD building to remain open for nearly a year despite acknowledging it's likely someone will die or be injured if it catches fire.

Auckland Council issued a Dangerous Building Notice about the five-storey Strand Arcade building at 233 Queen Street on 30 June last year.

"In the event of a fire, injury or death to any persons in the building or to persons on other property is likely," the notice said, under the heading in the notice titled 'Reasons why the building is considered dangerous'.

The notice gave the building's six owners until 23 December to fix numerous problems including with the smoke detectors, heat detectors, alarms, emergency lighting systems, ventilation, and escape routes.

The building is such a risk the Fire Service said it would not send crews into the building in the event of a fire.  

"My understanding is they were reconstructing and disabled inbuilt fire protection whether it be alarm systems, sprinkler system or taking away fire stops," said Boyd Raines, Professional Firefighters Union Auckland Vice President.

"I've seen it where an assistant area commander responds [to a fire alarm at the Strand Arcade], which is fairly unusual, but that to me signals the high level of concern by upper management in relation to that building," Mr Raines said.

The council has the power to shut buildings and issue fines up to $200,000 if owners don't comply with Dangerous Building Notices.

The problems at Strand Arcade remain, however, and the building's Warrant of Fitness has expired.

In March this year, the council gave the owners two weeks to fix the problems and obtain a WOF, otherwise "further non-compliance will result in prosecution proceedings commencing without further notice".

Outside facade with pedestrians walking past The Strand in Auckland City

Pedestrians walk past The Strand Arcade in Auckland City. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

As yet, no fines or prosecution proceedings have commenced.

Auckland Council's weather-tightness and compliance manager Sally Grey said the council believed the only imminent risk was with people sleeping inside, so it forced the building's owners to shut down a backpackers for a short time.

"It does take a period of time for those issues to be rectified. It wasn't a case of a dangerous building notice being served and nothing then being done for 12 months: the risk was isolated, i.e. no longer sleeping accommodation," Ms Grey said.

"Over the period of time leading up to Christmas the food court was also closed which further removed fire risk in the building."

Responding to the Fire Service's concerns, Ms Grey said: "I simply don't know why they would take that view".

Checkpoint spoke to every business owner or employee in the Strand Arcade today. Not one was aware of the extent of the fire issues.

Janet Wang, who owns the Aspiring Language Institute on the fourth floor, says she was never told about the fire issues, and is in the process of moving due to safety concerns.

"If it's a dangerous building, we need to leave," Ms Wang said.

The Strand Arcade, situated at 233 Queen Street in Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"We were told [the WOF] was going to be ready in a few weeks, then a couple months, and now it's been four, maybe five months."

Another business owner, who asked not be named for fear of retribution from the building's owners, only learned of the fire risk when contacted.

The owners of the building declined to be interviewed, but the body corporate, Scope Strata Management, issued a three line statement saying it was working with the council and expected the Dangerous Building Notice to be withdrawn shortly.

Several fire engineers and compliance officers who had worked on the building told Checkpoint they did not believe it would be warrantable for about six months.

They spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they believed publicly criticising Auckland Council would make it hard to win future contract bids.

Ms Grey said the engineers and compliance officers should not be concerned about speaking out, and the council was confident the dangerous building notice would be taken down "imminently".

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