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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Construction laws need a revamp

Construction laws need a revamp

On Thursday evening, many people living near Lane 94, Dazhi Street in Taipei’s Zhongshan District (中山) heard a loud thud from a nearby construction site. Then tiles in their homes began to fall, large cracks appeared on walls and iron bars on windows bent. while a few buildings seemed to be tilting. Police and firefighters quickly arrived and found that several adjoining buildings were leaning and had large cracks in their walls, while the road surface had crumbled and partly collapsed. They evacuated more than 100 people and cordoned off the surrounding area.

After about two hours, at 10:49pm, as Taipei City Government officials and Taipei Deputy Mayor Lee Shu-chuan (李四川) were at the site assessing the situation and leading operations, another large rumbling sound was heard and one of the buildings suddenly sank, with the first floor crushed underground.

The city government said that by yesterday, seven old residential buildings adjacent to the construction site — a private urban renewal apartment development by construction company Kee Tai Properties — were directly affected, and 454 people from 201 households from the seven and nearby buildings had been evacuated.

The city government’s preliminary assessment is that the incident occurred because the builders had excavated as far as three floors below ground, but did not complete the proper foundation work promptly, so the diaphragm wall was unable to withstand water and soil pressure and fractured. Kee Tai Properties on Friday admitted negligence and took responsibility for the matter, but the firm’s manager still could not be reached as of yesterday afternoon.

The city government filled the excavated area with grout to prevent further collapse and ordered Kee Tai to halt all of its construction projects in the city for inspections. It has also resettled the evacuated residents at hotels.

However, city councilors and civil engineers have pointed out possible regulatory flaws that led to the incident, which should not be overlooked.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Chen E-jun (陳怡君) said residents reported cracked walls and pipes in March. Kee Tai only filled the cracks in the walls, so the residents filed more complaints with the city’s Construction Management Office in April and May. The Department of Urban Development replied in June and July that “there is no risk to public safety,” “the project can continue” and that it would “not be listed for monitoring.”

Taipei City Councilor Miao Po-ya (苗博雅) and some civil engineers said that the city regulations for handling disputes over a construction causing damage to neighboring buildings stipulate that when the city government receives complaints about suspected damage, the construction company and its supervisors (architects and civil engineers) should assess whether the damage was caused by their work, allowing the company to “play the roles of player and referee simultaneously.”

Moreover, several city councilors referred to Kee Tai Properties’ poor record, including a construction site in Hsinyi District (信義) that caused concrete spalling and tilting of a nearby building, caused by a flawed pool design. The firm’s mangers have also been accused of illegal fundraising and prosecutors are still investigating them, the councilors said, asking how companies can be better monitored.

Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) in April said that 72 percent of all households in Taipei, more than 640,000, are in buildings more than 30 years old, and policies have been introduced to encourage and accelerate urban renewal projects. Yet Thursday’s incident, as well as six sinkholes that occurred in the city this year, highlight several construction-related public safety issues and regulation flaws that the city government must address to protect city residents’ safety and property rights before approving more construction projects.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2023/09/10

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Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

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