There’s the bank, the car dealership and the tyre shop. The bike store, the booze store and the real estate firm.
Take a walk around the streets of Masterton, the 23,000-strong beating heart of the Wairarapa region, and you wouldn’t go far before seeing one of the near-new commercial properties, the product of a thriving rural economy and a civic centre that takes great pride in its appearance.
But take a closer look, and cracks start to appear.
A Stuff investigation has found 13 near-new buildings have structural weaknesses in Masterton, raising fears of systemic failings in the engineering industry.
The design faults, which were not picked up by council, reduced five of the buildings’ seismic strength status to “earthquake prone”.
Now the owner of two of the buildings is struggling to find anyone accountable for the costly errors.
Faulty design work was first discovered when a private Masterton developer Percy McFadzean commissioned a seismic review of a building he constructed in 2005 to be leased to ASB Bank on Masterton’s Queen St.
The initial report found serious design flaws that made the new building earthquake prone. These findings were backed up by two more detailed reviews conducted by independent structural engineering firms.
In spite of a prior pricing agreement with Midwest Disposals, a report by the Masterton District Council’s Finance Manager David Paris (December 2014) has detailed an unexpected cost increase in gate fees to take effect from Jan 1st this year. The district’s three Wairarapa Councils have an agreement with Midwest to accept their solid waste that extends to 2018 and includes fixed pricing. This increase in the gate fee of $3/tonne was justified by Midwest on the basis that they need to cover the increase and cost of NZ Carbon Units, part of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that came into effect from 1 January 2013. Under this scheme operators are required to purchase credits based on tonnage.
Masterton Council expressed at their meeting that they believe they have grounds to dispute the increase (you can read the full details in the Council records at this link) legal costs and expert advice would negate any savings that could be achieved by arguing the cost down. (There is a clause in the agreement that allows Midwest to pass on other levies.)
Prices were to increase from 1 February 2015, allowing time for operators to be advised of the changes. The cost would also be passed on to domestic consumers and prices for trailers, vans and utes would be increased. And kerbside bags, not yet, but will be looked at in the next review.
Here we have a classic example of low-key corporate bullying. This company whose actions the Council believed they had the grounds to dispute did not do so … purely on the basis that the whole exercise would be too expensive and therefore not cost effective. And as always in these cases the cost is recouped from the consumers. So here we have a precedent; any other binding agreement Midwest chooses to renege on in the future, they can, for exactly the same reason … the financial cost is too high for a Council budget to oppose. This makes a laughing stock of any agreement really. What is an agreement worth if it’s not binding? Why even make one if you have no intentions of sticking to it? This is the reality of corporate license.
Back in 2009 the Wairarapa News reported on the impact rubbish disposal prices were having on low income residents. It was said then that because the Masterton District Council has opted to go for the user-pays model, people were having to pay upfront for council bags and at the tip face, and for many that was a good $10 out of a $60 per week budget for food. These changes were initiated in 2005 with the proposed closure of their Nursery Road tip.
Clearly the cost of rubbish disposal is hitting people evidenced by the regular dumping of refuse around public street receptacles, clothing bins and along roadsides outside of town and city boundaries.