Brooklyn collapse triggers concern

Posted On Thursday, 11 April 2002 10:25 Published by
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Tshwane city council investigates 15 buildings for not complying with safety standards
Tshwane city council investigates 15 buildings for not complying with safety standards

Property Editor

THE collapse of part of Brooklyn Mall, the second such shopping centre mishap in Pretoria within five months, has raised concerns about safety standards in SA buildings.

The main concern is that the weekend collapse at Brooklyn Mall and the Kolonnade Shopping Centre in December might point to a lax regulatory environment. A problem is that in a bid to remain competitive contractors are tempted to cut corners and costs, so compromising safety standards.

Gauteng Master Builders Association executive director Colin de Kock said a worrying aspect in SA was the tendency by commercial property developers to fast-track developments. 'Fast-tracking requires building contractors to complete construction in shorter periods than normal, which is conducive to lowering of quality standards and can lead to defective workmanship,' said De Kock.

He said fast-tracking was not a general practice elsewhere in the world.

The roof of the south west wing of the Brooklyn Mall collapsed on Sunday, resulting in the Tshwane (Pretoria) city council ordering a closure of a section of the mall pending investigations.

The roof structure of the Kolonnade Shopping Centre collapsed in December, injuring about 50 people.

In reaction to the collapse at the Brooklyn Mall, the council said this week that up to 15 buildings in Pretoria were being investigated for not complying with safety standards.

This could point to laxity in the application of building regulations in the city.

The council said occupation certificates had not been issued for many buildings, including Brooklyn Mall, and such buildings might pose a safety risk.

Brooklyn Mall will remain closed until certain requirements of the council are met by the owners.

These include approval of 'as-built' drawings, approval of all tenant installations, a completion certificate from an engineer, confirmation that fire safety regulations have been met and submission of electrical compliance certificates.

De Kock said his association was concerned about the collapse of the Kolonnade and Brooklyn malls, particularly because they occurred in developments where large numbers of people congregated.

De Kock has questioned the council's statement that 15 buildings did not comply with safety standards.

He said the council's statement was an unnecessary scare.

'The collapse of parts the two centres does not indicate a general problem.'

De Kock said that the occupation certificate should not be seen as a guarantee of structural integrity.

Municipal authorities did not have the capacity to evaluate design criteria. 'Occupation certificates are an indication that the bureaucratic requirements have been complied with,' said De Kock.

Both the Kolonnade and Brooklyn Mall are owned or partly owned by listed property company Primegro Properties.

Primegro joint MD Martin Ettin said the timing of the collapse in the two centres was a pure coincidence.

'These centres were built by different contractors for different owners and at different stages,' said Ettin.

The collapse in Brooklyn happened involved a section added to the centre in 1997, and that was the section closed by the council.

Ettin said preliminary investigation suggested that the roof structure in Brooklyn came down because of a failure in wooden roof trusses, and not a result of structural defect.

Preliminary investigations suggested the collapse at Kolonnade was a result of a structural defect.

As in the case of the Kolonnade, the council and the labour department have ordered separate investigations to ascertain the cause of the collapse.

The investigations should also point out a guilty party, if there is one.

De Kock said the fault could possibly be found in all or one of three areas, design, manufacturing or construction.

Similar investigations, said one observer who did not want to be named, tended to be a playground for academics, and they had not served their purpose of producing a cause for the problem.

'They also take long and lose significance,' he said.

Since the launch of investigations into the Kolonnade collapse in December, nothing has been finalised, and there is still no indication what caused the collapse.

If concluded, such investigations could be used to prosecute if a party is found to have broken the country's occupational health and safety laws.

If the closure of the affected section in Brooklyn lasts for a long period, this could have a negative effect on earnings of Primegro.

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Sibonelo Radebe

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