6 June 2024

Morris Property Group slams Highgate defects report as alarmist

| Ian Bushnell
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The Highgate tower in the city. Owners and the builder are working to resolve any outstanding issues. Photo: Region.

A report that alleged dozens of building defects, including unsafe balconies, at the upmarket Highgate residential tower in the city has been branded alarmist and misleading.

Details of the report from engineering consultancy Bligh Tanner that was completed last year were published this week in The Canberra Times.

Morris Property Group completed the 18-storey tower on the corner of Akuna Street and City Walk in 2018.

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Vantage Strata commissioned Bligh Tanner on behalf of the Owners Corporation to inspect the property in September last year. They emailed owners soon after to tell them to take extreme caution on the balconies and near the balustrades, with the rider that none of the concerns had been substantiated.

The report listed 44 defects or issues, including a range of problems with the balconies, such as loading issues, glass that could eject and shatter and poor or missing waterproof membranes. Other building issues included concrete cracks and honeycombing, and corroded steelwork.

In a joint statement, Morris Property Group and the Highgate executive committee said the report was commissioned because the building was close to its six-year limitation period for making defect claims.

“This is a typical process,” the statement said.

It said Morris immediately commissioned independent experts, including an engineer to review the report and inspect the building, and the builder was satisfied that there was no immediate concern for safety.

“Further investigations are being carried out by the parties, who are working together collaboratively and in good faith in an attempt to resolve the situation,” the statement said.

Morris Property Group chief operating officer and construction director James Morris told Region that a number of items within the report were alarmist in nature and/or did not give genuine consideration to the builder’s scope of works or construction methodology.

He said the balconies were not unsafe and Morris formally advised the EC of this last year.

“The builder and an independent engineer inspected the building and available units immediately after receiving the alarming advice regarding balconies,” he said.

James Morris

Morris Property Group COO and construction director James Morris said the company was prepared to rectify any alleged defects that were substantiated within the terms of the parties’ agreement. Photo: MPG.

Mr Morris said the “honeycomb” concrete shown in published photos was not a structural defect or cause to suggest the building was structurally unsound.

He said Morris encouraged owners to get their properties inspected before the limitation period ended, but he contested this report and believed that the defect claims were alarmist and/or not substantiated.

The company was prepared to rectify any alleged defects that were substantiated in accordance with the terms of the parties’ agreement, he said.

It had already made multiple inspections and carried out isolated rectification works at the request of individual owners.

“The discussions between our company and the EC are confidential and continuing,” Mr Morris said.

“Our company enjoys a positive and collaborative relationship with the executive committee and we are continuing investigations while working together towards a suitable resolution.”

As an integrated property business with an in-house construction team, Morris Property Group would rectify substantiated and agreed defects at its expense, he said.

Mr Morris said that despite media reporting, the reputation of the local family-owned company remained rock solid.

“I have been encouraged by the support we have received since the publication of The Canberra Times article,” he said.

“A number of educated property professionals and buyers have noted various inconsistencies in the publication.

“Many have offered their services to assist the Highgate owners and our company to rectify the perceived imbalance with respect to the quality of Highgate and construction of new buildings generally.”

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Mr Morris brushed off suggestions that the article had hurt the company.

“If we were concerned with reputation damage from misleading reports and/or the quality of our product being delivered to the market, then we would not continue in the industry,” he said.

“We confirm our commitment to our past and future buyers and look forward to delivering many new residential projects in years to come.”

Vantage Strata is no longer managing the property, having handed over the role to Signature Strata this year.

Region also put further questions to the Highgate executive committee. Vantage Strata and Bligh Tanner would not comment.

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Morris Group had similar defensive responses with their Kingston apartments and originally refused to address Kingston apartment defects. Took a lot of regulatory and legal effort to get them to finally address the issues in that disastrous build.

This has just further exposed the fact that this environment of self regulation just doesn’t work. The regulatory framework for both developers/builders and strata managers needs an overhaul. There’s no regulatory framework for strata managers, with many of them making stuff up as they go along. With developers/builders there is an abbrogation by the government of their regulatory regime in ensuring that developments are fit for purpose and built according to building requirements.

Sadly, there’s too many apartment complexes in #CBR which fail and everyone seems to shrug their shoulders with a “that’s the way it is” outlook. This also goes back to combustible cladding. Why is the treatment of #CBR apartments different to other jurisdictions? The residents neither selected, nor inspected cladding. Yet they’re expected to spend tens of thousands to remediate.

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