Mount Waverley’s big pit to be re-dug as developers’ plans are revised upwards

Around 16,000 cubic metres of dirt was dumped on the site after the collapse. Photo: Joe Armao

The developer facing disciplinary action over the collapse of a major excavation pit is planning to bring the diggers back again after applying to construct an even larger building on the same site.

In July 2015, Jim Nicolaou​ of Action Master Builders was forced to fill a crumbling construction pit in Mount Waverley after the 15-metre deep hole he was digging collapsed following heavy rain.

The massive backfill job required 1700 truckloads – or 16,000 cubic metres – of dirt to be dumped on the site, and left Mr Nicolaou facing a massive clean-up bill.

Now Mr Nicolaou wants to dig up all that dirt again and has applied for permission to build an even bigger medical suite, childcare centre and apartment block than was planned before.

The collapse caused by Mr Nicolaou’s digging exposed major failings in Victoria’s building surveying industry, triggering investigations which revealed more than 700 misconduct claims across the industry in recent years – with many surveyors brazenly ignoring the rules.

So bad was the damage to neighbouring houses from Mr Nicolaou’s Mount Waverley excavation that building surveyors from Monash Council were initially unable to enter two neighbouring townhouses because of concerns the buildings could collapse.

The townhouse most heavily damaged is still yet to be fixed, with repair work funded by the owner’s insurance company only just set to begin.

The owner said he had had no direct contact with Mr Nicolaou since the landslip occurred.

But Mr Nicolaou said on Tuesday that the townhouses that had teetered on the edge of his site were not damaged, and did not need to be sitting vacant.

“They are perfectly fine, I do not understand,” he said.

But Monash Council chief executive Andi Diamond said the properties were not suitable for occupancy and would not be until works were undertaken to make them safe.

The contractor brought in to fill in the hole, Go Green Plant Hire, also had to take Mr Nicolaou and his wife to court, after they alleged Action Master Builders failed to pay outstanding invoices totalling more than $268,000.

Vertical cuts were made during excavation instead of the “battered” technique allowed by the building permit, possibly causing the landslip, according to court documents.

Mr Nicolaou denied he had done anything wrong, blaming others for the accident.

“I do not expect any findings against me – I strictly followed engineering guidance,” he said.

“We were unlucky. Given the weather was so unusual, what happened, happened.”

He said if Monash Council approved his new application, “I won’t do [any works] in winter.”

In his revised plan for the site, at 170 Highbury Road, Mr Nicolaou wants to add a fourth storey to his original permit, with an extra 10 apartments.

Almost a year after the site collapsed, the Victorian Building Authority referred four builders, surveyors and engineers to the Building Practitioners Board for an inquiry.

They were: surveyor Anastasios Galanos, civil engineer Aldo Ditonto, another civil engineer Thewarathanthrige Fernando, and Mr Nicolaou.

The directions hearing resulting from these inquiries is set to begin this month.

Monash mayor Rebecca Paterson said the council was not legally obliged to consider the previous issues on the site as part of the revised planning application that it had received.

“Unfortunately, the construction issues are not a matter that we’re able to factor into our decision-making,” she said.

The Victorian Building Authority referred queries on the matter to the Building Practitioners Board. The Building Practitioners Board could not be reached – it did not answer its phone and has not responded to emails.

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