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Car parks at risk without legal inspection duty

Lack of routine maintenance and poor inspection regimes have exposed multi-storey car parks in the UK to the risk of catastrophic structural failure and collapse, car park operators said this week.

Structural experts from the British Parking Association (BPA) will this week present a damning report to government highlighting the poor state of the UK’s car parks.

The report warns that introducing a legal maintenance obligation is vital if car parks are to remain structurally safe.

Self policing

“Self-policing of inspections doesn’t work,” said BPA structures chairman and report author Chris Whapples.

“You’ve got to force people to maintain a [car park] structure or they won’t do it.”

The BPA report comes just 12 days after a car park roof collapsed at the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada killing two and injuring 22 (see box).

Canadian collapse

A section of a car park deck in Ontario, Canada, collapsed last week crashing down into the shopping centre below, killing two and injuring a further 22.

Corrosion of the Algo Centre Mall building’s steel frame caused by water leaking through the car park deck is thought to have led to the collapse, said University of Toronto civil engineering professor Evan Bentz.
“De-icing salts [used on the car park deck] could have leaked through the structure and caused corrosion [of the steel frame],”
said Bentz.

Local media reports said the roof had been leaking before the collapse.

The accident occurred at 2.19pm local time on 23 June. A 12m wide by 24m long section of deck, which had been cast insitu, broke away from precast sections to which it was attached, crashing onto escalators and the food hall below.

The mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, was constructed in 1981 and consists of a two level shopping centre with a car park deck on top. The deck is made up of precast hollowcore slabs, but the section that collapsed was cast insitu concrete, according to Bentz.

The Ontario Provincial Police - North East Region, Ontario Ministry of Labour, and the Office of the Chief Coroner have begun a joint investigation into the cause of the collapse.

If the investigation finds any criminal negligence by the designers, contractors or owners of the mall then they could face charges, said an Ontario Provincial Police spokesman.

“A similar collapse could happen here,” said Whapples, insisting that a law to make inspections compulsory was vital.

Transport minister Norman Baker commissioned the BPA’s Report into Structural Safety and Maintenance of car parks in the UK in December 2010.

He commissioned the report because he wanted evidence to support the BPA’s claims that car parks were poorly maintained and required mandatory inspections before he could consider taking action

The report surveyed 90 car park owners and shows that just 40% of respondents had maintenance programmes in place.

26 car parks in poor condition

It also highlighted 26 examples of car parks found to be in a poor structural condition.

Whapples said poor inspection regimes have resulted in several multi-storey car parks - in Nottingham, Ipswich, and Scunthorpe - being closed and subsequently demolished over the past three years after they were found to be in poor ­structural condition.

He also warned that more had to be done to beef up existing inspection procedures.

“The inspection regimes are not adequate,” he said.

“You need more than visual inspections, you need periodic testing [of the concrete].”

The BPA has been lobbying the government for legislation which will force car park owners to introduce structural ­maintenance regimes similar to those in place on the highways network.

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