THE Verve apartment complex in King Street was designed to be one of the crowning glories of the city's urban revitalisation, a pair of landmark 19-storey towers with the title of Newcastle's tallest buildings.
Unfortunately, however, the Verve towers have been making plenty of headlines in recent days, but for all the wrong reasons.
First off, a leaking hot water main that ran unchecked for at least 10 hours from the ninth-floor of one tower caused varying degrees of damage to dozens of apartments.
As if this was not enough, apparently routine X-ray checking has revealed air pockets - or "voids" - in some of the project's concrete panels.
A burst water pipe is one thing, but the discovery of at least two "significant structural defects"- and an undisclosed number of "minor ones" - appears to be something altogether more serious.
There is some reassurance in the developers saying they replaced everything water-damaged, rather than trying to dry it out. There is reassurance, too, in the structural engineers saying they tested every concrete wall once the initial defects were discovered.
Problems such as these are the last thing a buyer wants to hear at any time, but the fallout may well be greater than it might have been, given the focus on the industry in the wake of the Sydney apartment evacuations.
The general response has been to blame a lack of inspection scrutiny, made easier by the introduction of private certifiers in competition with the traditional local government compliance system.
Critics say there is a potential conflict of interest at the heart of private certification, given the certifier is being paid by the owner of the development. But problems have also been found in council-certified jobs. The real issue would seem to be a need for a greater accountability right through a build. Increasingly, certifiers really only check the certificates issued by others.
Despite the pressure on the industry at present, calls for reform of the construction process are nothing new.
According to one estimate, NSW alone has had 18 reports on the subject in the past two decades, meaning the problems - and presumably their causes - are well-known.
No building system will ever be perfect, but the longer the question marks continue over the high-rise sector, the greater the fall in public confidence will be.
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