‘No need to close Southland Museum’

Author: Lindsay Buckingham, Building professional  

Comment on Closure of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery

Lindsay Buckingham

29 April 2018

The Chief Executives Report to Council dated 9 April 2018 recommended to the Invercargill City Council (ICC) that they withdraw all staff from the Southland Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG). The consequence of this action forced the SMAG Trust Board to close the museum.

I ask why and how did the Chief Executive arrived at this recommendation?

My contention is that the report is in large part based on two assertions which are factually incorrect and therefore the decision to withdraw staff and close SMAG are simply wrong and the decision needs to be reversed immediately.

With specific reference to the Chief Executive’s 9 April 2018 Report:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) is cited as presenting responsibilities and liabilities in relation to the the earthquake-prone building provisions of the Building Act. This is wrong and has been clearly repudiated on 17 April 2018 by WorkSafe who administer HSWA. “WorkSafe isn’t able to enforce legislation beyond the powers it’s ascribed by Government. If a failure occurs within the Building Act regime, that’s where it would be addressed. The Building Act requirements are not retrospective. The HSWA can’t, and shouldn’t, be used to strengthen building requirements over time.”

  • “The Chief Executive considers it inappropriate to continue occupation of the building without recognition of the engineer’s advice”. The Opus 2013 Engineering Report concludes the building is earthquake prone. The Win Clark March 2018 review of the Opus report concludes the building is “probably earthquake prone”. The assertion that because the building is earthquake prone it must be closed is wrong and has been clearly repudiated on 26 April 2018 by MBIE who administer the Building Act. “The Building Act does not require building owners to close or restrict access to their buildings once the building is deemed earthquake-prone or assessed as potentially earthquake-prone. However, the owner must display the EPB notice prominently on the building so the public can make their own decision in regard to entering/using the building.” Furthermore neither of the engineer’s reports recommend immediate closure of the building. 

Further to the Chief Executives report it would seem that both the ICC and SMAG Trust Board members are collectively concerned about personal liability should the building remain open and collapse in an earthquake. This now appears to be the default basis for justifying the withdrawal of staff and closure of the building. In response to questions the Chief Executive states that legal advice was obtained but this has not been made available publicly nor has a clear statement been made as all discussions around personal liability have been conducted in public excluded sessions of the both the ICC and SMAG Trust Board.