2 May 2017

Engineer company shuts doors while facing unresolved complaint

8:06 am on 2 May 2017

A structural engineering company has shut its doors while facing both an unresolved complaint and a call for a review of its seismic assessments and other work.

23062016 Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King. Wellington City Council.

The Wellington City Council lodged a complaint against ISPS founder Ian Smith last year, then withdrew it when he died. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

ISPS Consulting Engineers is ceasing trading, and two other firms will take over its staff and projects.

But a Wellington property investor is maintaining his call for a review of recent work done by ISPS founder Ian Smith.

ISPS said the questions about its work had nothing to do with it closing.

Rather, it had always intended to wrap the firm up after Mr Smith and his wife Mary died in a car crash last October, said board member Angela Clark.

ISPS was a medium-sized company and after the Kaikōura quake it said more than 100 clients asked it to do rapid assessments of buildings in the capital.

Last week RNZ reported that ISPS had rated a Wellington central high-rise in Manners Street at 102 percent of the code related to quakes, while two other engineers rated it as probably much lower than that.

Such big variations in quake assessments are bedevilling the whole industry, sharpened acutely by the demands in Wellington since the Kaikōura shake.

A half dozen industry insiders have raised questions with RNZ about ISPS's seismic assessments.

Two others have defended ISPS as doing good work.

'Assessing an old building is absolutely different from designing a new one'

ISPS's record at doing quake assessments was better than some other firms, said Peter Johnstone, the founder of New Zealand Consulting Engineers, which is picking up five of ISPS's engineers in Wellington.

The real problem, he said, was that many structural engineers did not understand "the basic performance of buildings, or that assessing an old building is absolutely different from designing a new one".

That was why he had been at the forefront of standardising how seismic assessments were done, he said.

These changes were due to be fixed in place by law changes in July.

The Wellington City Council lodged a complaint against Mr Smith last year with the engineers professional watchdog IPENZ, then withdrew it when he died.

It would not say what was in the complaint, pointing out Mr Smith could not defend himself.

IPENZ began an investigation, but could not legally keep that going against someone who is dead.

It said it took the "concerns raised very seriously" and was "considering what action we can take, given ... legal constraints".

Wellington businessman Richard Burrell, who owns several commercial properties in the region, has contacted IPENZ, the Wellington City Council, the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Building Minister Nick Smith asking for a review of Ian Smith's recent work.

The ministry told RNZ it had no power to investigate an engineering firm and that was not its job.

IPENZ said it could not investigate firms, only individual engineers.

Mr Smith and ISPS's quake assessments and building inspection reports are still in circulation so can be reviewed by other engineers, as happened at Alcatel-Lucent House in Manners St, showing up big divergences.

ISPS's three engineers in Taupo have been employed by a local firm, Cheal Consultants.

Ms Clark said as executor her job was to liquidate assets and return them to the firm's seven beneficiaries.

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