11 October 2019

Government, developer at loggerheads as Kingston apartment block battle intensifies

| Ian Bushnell
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The Kingston Place apartments on Eyre Street

The Kingston Place apartments on Eyre Street. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

The ACT Government and a major developer are at loggerheads as a long-running dispute over alleged structural defects in a Kingston apartment complex remain unresolved.

The ACT Government says it must act to prevent the possible collapse of the apartment complex after the developer refused an order to do the work, warning it might result in “unforeseen and consequential damage” to the building.

Morris Property Group says an independent engineer advised against the proposed work. They are standing by the expert advice they have received and say that rectification works may, in fact, cause further damage.

The Kingston Place apartments in Eyre Street has been mired in controversy for years over alleged building defects. Last month, the construction watchdog issued Morris Construction Corporation (MCC), part of long-time Canberra developer Morris Property Group, with an emergency rectification order (ERO) over concerns the apartment block was not structurally sound and could suffer catastrophic defects that could render the building unlivable.

The ACT Government says the building suffered from “punching shear”, a defect in which concrete columns are subjected to high amounts of pressure, which could cause them to fail and punch through the concrete slab floors.

Morris had unsuccessfully challenged the order in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal and maintains the building was structurally sound, although it acknowledged further investigation was warranted.

The company had previously installed props to support the building on a “without admission” basis.

“The safety of the public and those who live and work in its developments is Morris’s utmost priority. On the basis of the expert advice it has received, MCC is not willing to perform the works specified under the ERO at this stage,” the company said in a statement.

Penalties for refusing an order are set at up to $1.62 million and the decision to apply them is made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, not the ACT Government.

But the government will be billing Morris for the work, which began on Thursday and will cost about $300,000, something that could also be heading for the courts.

Morris said it had asked for access to the building for its consultant engineer to inspect the situation and conduct further tests.

“In the case of the works proposed by the Registrar in the ERO, further investigation is needed to ensure that any works required – if any – are performed safely, for residents and users of the building,” company director Barry Morris said.

Mr Morris said matters surrounding Kingston Place were currently before the ACT Supreme Court following legal action taken in September 2017 by the Owners Corporation against six parties involved in its development and construction.

“We remain committed to reaching a resolution in relation to the ongoing litigation involving Kingston Place, however we cannot in good faith perform rectification works to a building when we have been independently advised that doing so may cause further damage to it,” he said.

Mr Morris said Morris Construction had written to the Government Solicitor on 1 October requesting a meeting with the Registrar to discuss its concerns over the Order, but had not received a response.

The Owners Corporation has been in conflict with Morris Construction since 2014 and claims that Access Canberra failed to act. Owners Corporation head John Grant told the Assembly’s building quality inquiry that owners had spent $250,000 on expert reports and $400,000 on legal fees since 2014.

Government inspectors visited the complex on 19 September in response to another complaint.

The government would not comment directly on this case but the move comes amid a crackdown on building defects, particularly in the apartment sector, and after a vow by Building Quality Improvement Minister Gordon Ramsay to clean up the industry.

“I have made quite clear since my appointment as Minister for Building Quality Improvement that neither the government nor the community will tolerate building work that is sub-standard,” Mr Ramsay has said previously.

“Cleaning up the building industry requires all parts of the supply chain to realise that poor work is not only detrimental to homeowners and investors but damaging to the industry and community as a whole.”

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