Council denies OIA to protect property owners’ interests

Wellington City Council have denied an Official Information Act request from Thomas Beagle, who wanted to see the list of buildings in Wellington that were constructed in a similar way to the collapsed CTV building in Christchurch.

Why was it denied? Because someone at the Council deemed its release “would unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the person who is the subject of the information.” The request and response is below.

foiextract20130916-13966-13kri86-0-1_1We already know what buildings in the city are earthquake-prone and know what steps are being taken to reduce their risk. Surely that unreasonably prejudices the commercial position of person who owns one just as much as knowing which ones were constructed in a similar way to the CTV building. Why the secrecy?

The public interest in this is huge. Hopefully the Council reviews its position so Beagle doesn’t have to go to the Ombudsman and wait 2 years for a response.

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8 responses to “Council denies OIA to protect property owners’ interests

  1. Dear WCC Watch – yes we have refused to release the information but just so you don’t end up grossly misinforming your readers, there’s a bit more to this. The buildings on the list were constructed from reinforced concrete in the 1980s and 1990s (as was the CTV building). At the moment there’s no indication or proof that they have similar problems to te CTV building – so we are withholding the information on the basis of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ philosophy – ie why should we taint these buildings with a bad reputation if there is nothing wrong with them? We have also refused to release the information to a number of media organisations, not just to Mr Beagle. The owners of these buildings have engaged civil and structural engineers to take close looks at the buildings to see whether any remedial work is necessary. We are happy with the progress of these checks. Regards Richard MacLean WCC Communications

    • Interesting, Mr Maclean…
      I have worked for the last 6 years in a building in Wellington, the owners of which were advised by engineers in 2011 to undertake remedial repairs to the stairwell.
      These repairs were deferred (presumably because they weren’t required by WCC to effect them), with the result that, after the earthquakes of late July the stairs were deemed by all the buildings occupants to be not safe for use (even though the engineers engaged by the owners thought they were).

      Eventually after the August shakes, the building owners were forced to undertake emergency repairs in order to allow further occupation of the building because the stairs were deemed not satisfactory for fire egress by yet another engineering firm. The end result is that I have been working from home for 9 weeks now because either the Fire Service or my employer won’t let me into the office.

      Is the WCC happy that this sort of sequence is happening because the interests of the owners are being protected over the safety of people who work in or walk past these buildings? Granted that not all these people are residents of (and therefore ratepayers to) the WCC local government area.

  2. Hopefully WCC will be forced to back down over this as they did over the earthquake prone buildings in 2011.

    Maclean’s excuses aren’t valid. If a building is on the list its tenants can get a proper report from the landlord. The real reason the Council is hiding the info is more likely that Council officers are more worried about legal action from landlords today than public safety tomorrow – just like 2011. Hopefully some councillors will be shamed into taking action.

  3. Dear Richard MacLean,

    Maybe you could help me out – which part of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (1987) lists “innocent until proven guilty” as a justifiable grounds for refusing to release official information held by the Wellington City Council?

    I believe that people should be able to make up their own minds based on the best information currently available to them, and that the council has no reason for withholding any such information that it might have.

    I will update my complaint to the Ombudsman with your comments as I believe they indicate that the council’s original response to me may have been a bit misleading about the reason for withholding the information.

  4. Knowing that there is a list of potentially unsafe buildings in Wellington, and that the council is unwilling to release that list and the status of its safety inspections to the public for fear of damaging the commercial position of their owners, makes me feel far less confident about investing in any Wellington real estate at all.

  5. Dear Mr MacLean,

    great to see you engaging. Could you simply reassure Wellingtonians that all buildings on the list have now been initially assessed as NOT posing a threat of collapse similar to the CCTV building? I am sure that would put many people’s minds at ease. It would also not reveal any commercially sensitive or identifying information.

    Sincerely
    Hayley Robinson
    Onslow-Western ward candidate for Council

  6. Dear Mr McLean

    Why isn’t ‘innocent until proven guilty a consistent ethos through the Council? You have a situation where if a dog control officer, who may have just a week earlier been flipping burgers at McDonald’s, can tell you your dog is partially a dangerous breed (just because they meet you on the street, not that you or your dog has done anything wrong) and you have to prove that it isn’t a dangerous breed. How does that work under ‘innocent until proven guilty’?????

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