Seawall falls in ‘perfect storm’

THE COLLAPSE of a harbourside seawall in Neutral Bay has put all owners of Sydney waterfront units on alert that they must be prepared to dip into their pockets to maintain the whole property, or risk those properties dipping in value, if not dipping into the harbour itself.
Nanjing Night Net

The seawall, at Kurraba Point, collapsed on Saturday, and police ordered an immediate evacuation of adjoining blocks of units at No. 21 and No. 23 Baden Road.

Yesterday a further metre and a half of waterfront slid into the harbour in front of No. 23, exposing that building’s cracked concrete foundations, and threatening the integrity of the shared waterfront.

"What we have here is a lesson for strata groups all around the harbour," said Mark Bryant, who owns a unit next door.

"Just as it takes five or six things to go wrong for a plane to crash, a few different things had to go wrong for this to happen. We had the king tides, the wind and all the rain. But there’s drainage issues here, and leaky pipes, which gives you a potential for subsidence. And there’s concrete spoilage, which you get all around the harbour [and] affects a building’s structural integrity."

The seawall, which crumbled before 2.1 metre king tides and a strong southerly chop, had been in a serious state of neglect for a long time. "It was at an angle leaning out toward the water for at least the past eight months," said Dan Begley, 29, who rents a unit in No. 23.

"Last week I heard one tenant say it was only a matter of time before it went in. And then it did."

"We’d been trying to do something about the seawall for two years," said Mark Foley, 44, who owns a unit in No. 23.

"One of the owners had said that fixing it was too dear. He owns 10 units and the levies are a lot to pay, so it got held up. But two months ago we exchanged contracts and I’d been at them to get started. And the agreement was they were going to start on Monday."

Mr Bryant said strata owners needed to act for general good rather than procrastinating out of self-interest.

"The lesson here is [that] executives of a body corporate need to accept responsibility and act on issues in a timely fashion.

"Waterfront property is expensive, and it costs money to maintain it and to maintain its value. But sometimes you get people who are just investors and don’t want to spend. And sometimes you get a complacent executive. It was a perfect storm of things for a perfect mess."

Mr Begley’s unit in No. 23, the worst affected of the two blocks, is situated right above the subsidence. "I can fish directly into the harbour from my balcony. The water has gone under the concrete, under the flooring of the building, so it’s all hollowed underneath … the concrete block is cracked and it looks like it’s going to fall into the harbour."

Two separate structural assessments were made on Saturday, one by a North Sydney council engineer and another by an engineer contracted by Body Corporate Services, the company that manages strata for the adjoining blocks. Both engineers declared the buildings safe.

The king tides, an annual feature of Sydney summers, were expected to peak even higher last night at 2.2 metres. With more strong winds in the offing, residents were anxious.

Despite assurances that the knowledge the buildings are founded on secure bedrock, there was still room for anxiety, and a little humour, too.

Mr Foley said he phoned the engineer contracted by Body Corporate Services yesterday morning after he saw how much more land had slid into the harbour. "They told me that if the engineer had said it was safe, then there’s no need for him to come out again. But he should see it … I wish I hadn’t sold my surf ski now."