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Duelling options to fix hospital

Wellington High Court has been presented with alternative proposals to fix seismic defects in Wairarapa Hospital.

Options and costs were put forward as part of a month-long hearing about defects in the construction and consenting process of the hospital.

Te Whatu Ora [formerly Wairarapa DHB] is claiming almost $90 million in damages, plus interest and costs, from Masterton District Council [MDC] to remedy the defective hospital.

MDC has denied liability and defended the claim on a range of grounds.

The court was told that MDC’s proposed solution is estimated to cost about $4 million.

Both sides put their closing arguments to the Court this week, with the trial finishing on Tuesday.

The Court heard that it is not disputed the hospital building has defects and needs fixing, although the parties disagree about the best remedial scheme.

Christine Meechan KC, who led the MDC legal team, addressed the issue in summing up the council’s case on Monday.

“It was no doubt a relief to your Honour that all the experts agreed on the existence of the defects, and we did not need to go through 122 of them. But that level of agreement has not been carried over in relation to the appropriate remedial response,” she said.

MDC’s proposal involves fixing the defective parts of the current hospital building, while Te Whatu Ora proposes a new stand-alone hospital building adjacent to the current structure. A large part of the damages claimed is the cost of the new structure, estimated at more than $89 million.

“In this case, having advanced a claim based on the cost of fixing the defects for several years, Te Whatu Ora changed tack in March 2023 and asserted that the only way to deal with these defects was to build a new IL4 Hospital. My respectful submission, your Honour, is this is remedial overreach,” Meechan said.

“MDC says that the defects can be addressed by undertaking simple carpentry work. But of course, the complexity in the repair solution here lies in the planning, coordination and implementation in a working hospital.

“Disruption is inevitable, no two ways about it. But until March of 2023 Te Whatu Ora was prepared to work around that disruption to get the hospital fixed.”

The parties differ on whether the work can happen within the context of a functioning hospital, with MDC contending it would be possible.

In addition, MDC argued Te Whatu Ora is requiring it to build a hospital to a new IL4 1170 standard, “despite the fact that the standard when the hospital was built was not 1170, and there was no such thing as an IL4 hospital”, Meechan said.

“MDC very firmly says that the least expensive method of fixing the defects is all that Te Whatu Ora is entitled to receive.”

In closing arguments for Te Whatu Ora, Les Taylor KC argued a new hospital building is the appropriate remedy.

“The preferred remedial option known as ‘scheme 2’ involves constructing a new importance level 4 building,” he said.

Taylor said the remedial scheme put forward by MDC should be discarded, describing it as “incomplete” and “a wholly unreliable assessment of the reasonable cost of repair”.

“The defective hospital cannot be adequately rectified in a cheaper way with only minimal disruption to hospital operations,” he said, adding the proposal does not achieve the minimum goal of compliance with the relevant building code standards.

“And it is highly impractical to implement it without major disruption and inconvenience to the hospital’s functions, staff, and patients.”

Taylor said all parties agree the least interference with Hospital functions is optimal.

“There is no dispute between the parties that the remedial works have to be carried out with minimal disruption to the hospital services,” he said.

The month-long hearing concluded on Tuesday [29 August], with judgment reserved.

In lengthy hearings, judgments can be expected to take some months. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir

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