Council under review for not fulfilling its statutory obligations

The City of Melbourne has come under review in a blame game between governments as the focus on the collapse of the Swanston Street brick wall, which killed three people, shifts from a period of mourning to seeking answers as to how this tragedy was allowed to happen.

The Australian Newspaper has began asking questions as to who is responsible for maintaining public safety on building sites?

Mathew Guy, State Minster for Planning, has correctly pointed the finger at the City of Melbourne as they are the authority that is responsible for site management and approval of construction of hoardings and advertising signs within the City

Mr Guy said the City Council was responsible for the approval of all advertising signs in Melbourne, not the government. He had approved a permit for the construction of Grocon’s “Portrait” apartment development on the site but not the hoarding.

Melbourne City Council has been unable to locate paperwork relating to any application.

Melbourne City Councillor and Chairman of the Council’s Finance and Governance and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Portfolio, Stephen Mayne, refused to answer questions as to if the City of Melbourne had issued a permit for the construction of the wooden hoarding fixed to the masonry wall that collapse a week ago today.

@melbcity comrade, I have no information and felt it would be insensitive to start making public/political statements after 3 tragic deaths.

— Stephen Mayne (@MayneReport) April 4, 2013

 Cr. Mayne also was unable to indicate if the Council had inspected the site in fulfillment of its statutory and fiduciary duty.  Public Safety is the prime directive for any government.

In an attempt to deflect cristicism Cr Mayne twitted in reply

@melbcity of course I’m asking questions internally. You seem to want PUBLIC grandstanding which would be insensitive after 3 tragic deaths.
— Stephen Mayne (@MayneReport) April 4, 2013

Whilst we share concern for the loss and tragic deaths of three innocent people this does not excuse or exempt the City of Melbourne from providing answers to questions that most Melbournes are asking.  “Who was responsible for this accident and what responsibility does the City of Melbourne have in overseeing public safety”? “Why did the Council not fulfill it’s statutory duty of care”?

What questions has Councillor Mayne been asking and what were the answers received in response?

If Councillor Mayne is sincere in his expression of grief then he would best serve those who lost their life in this tragic event by ensuring that all responsible, including the City of Melbourne, are held to account for their actions and failings.

The City of Melbourne must initiate a independent review of it’s own involvement, responsibilities and statutory obligations surrounding this tragedy. It must not seek to side step or pass the buck.  The public deserve and expect sincere open and transparent governance.

Herald-Sun

CFMEU State secretary John Setka is calling for an independent inquiry to give the public confidence in the findings. “We need an independent inquiry and we can see what they can come up with,” he said.

Under Melbourne City Council rules all hoardings need a permit and must be able to withstand high winds. But the council, WorkSafe and Grocon are refusing to say if the hoarding on the wall in question, which was put in place last year, was signed off as safe by an engineer.

Mr Setka said that he was stunned that no-one would clarify whether the hoarding had received a permit.“Three people are dead and people have a right to know why,” he said.

He said that people needed permits to put up a shed in their backyard, so the hoarding should have come under the same scrutiny. Mr Setka said there were concerns that the wooden hoarding may have compromised the integrity of the wall.

The Melbourne City Council said in a statement it was saddened by Thursday’s incident, but refused to release further details. “With investigations underway, it is important that all the information is gathered and carefully assessed,” the statement said.

“As a result, the City of Melbourne will be focusing its efforts on supporting those inquiries and is not in a position to comment further at this time.”

Cracks were sighted in the wall at the time the hoarding was installed

Images published by the Herald Sun dated December 12, 2012 show that the brick wall in Swanston Street that collapsed from behind the hoarding. These cracks may have added to the series of structural failure contributing to the walls collapse, killing three innocent people.

The exposed plywood panel hoarding  as shown on the right of the photo above had broken away when the wall collapsed. They were propped up by steel tubing anchored into the ground by star pickets, similar to support provided to a realestate advertising billboard.  Compare this to the hoarding on the western side of the site which has solid bracing anchored by large concrete weights. The wooden hoarding was attached to the brick wall with dyna-bolts.  Any movement of the plywood structure under wind load would have placed added rotational pressure on southern edge of the brick wall.  The cracks that have been identified would have further compromised the walls integrity

A permit is required under City of Melbourne Local Laws and Building site guidelines to construct a hoarding (Maximum height 2.4m) and the site should have been subject to inspection by Council Engineers.  The dead load weight of the hoarding, which was higher then the height permitted, added significant weight to the wall and would have contributed to the walls collapse.

Had the City of Melbourne inspected the site prior to and after the installation of the new hoarding the noticeable design faults would have been identified and the walls collapse could have been avoided.

The Lord Mayor and Council officers have gone underground refusing to comment on the walls collapse for fear of being held partly responsible and liable.

Calls have been made for the City Council to release all documents related to the CUB site and initiate a full internal and independent review of Councils legislative and building guidelines.