Combustible cladding, a highly flammable issue
For those still horrified about what happened in London last June, it’s good to know that those in power on our side of the globe are also doing something.
In late February, we wrote that the sort of cladding on residential apartment buildings that engulfed London’s 24-storey Grenfell Tower and cost 71 people their lives had caught the attention of authorities in Australia.
In 2014, it was the Lacrosse tower in Victoria that had caught fire, with affected residents arguing that combustible cladding had allowed a simple cigarette butt to cause millions in damage.
A subsequent investigation showed that the Chinese cladding should never have been used, and that over 1000 other towers in Victoria alone may be similarly vulnerable.
You can read all about the saga of whether builders should be compelled to go back to buildings and fix dodgy cladding, and how residents have been left open to massive potential bills, at our Strataville piece from February 28.
In the days after the article was published, Victoria’s Labor Government moved to ban the most dangerous types of combustible cladding for buildings.
“This has been allowed to go on for too long and we’re ending it,” said Richard Wynne, Minister for Planning.
And New South Wales is the next combustible cladding battleground, in a saga that itself appears highly flammable.
Just over a week ago, the NSW government called for a national report into who is liable for fixing unsafe cladding – and the Commonwealth duly agreed.
“The report will also look at any court action currently underway, and whether any new approaches should be considered,” said Matt Kean, the Minister for Better Regulation.
“We will continue to push for effective, nationwide action to give Australians certainty and security when it comes to the buildings where they live, work and play,” he added.
Kean said the report will benefit citizens not just in NSW, but in every single state and territory.
New South Wales has actually been on the case for some time. Rose Webb, the NSW Fair Trading Commissioner, recently invited the public to give their opinions about whether certain types of cladding should be banned.
The state has also vowed to classify certain types of aluminium cladding as a major defect, paving the way for apartment owners to demand that repairs be done up to six years after the fact and paid for by the builder.
It all sounds like good news – even though it isn’t going to come cheaply.
Over in the ACT, the Government is footing a whopping $1 million bill for replacing combustible aluminium cladding at the Centenary Women’s and Children’s hospital.
And now other inspections of Government buildings are taking place.
“More detailed assessments for higher risk ACT buildings will be used to identify whether additional buildings require any building work or other fire safety or risk mitigation,” said a spokesperson for Planning Minister Mick Gentleman.
Last year, as a direct result of the deadly London fire, Gentleman tabled a report in the Legislative Assembly that showed that almost 50 Canberra schools may have aluminium composite panels present.
And Housing ACT says there may be seven sites that feature the panels – even though they may only pose a low risk to occupants because they are mainly single storey buildings.
Indeed, these sorts of panels are believed to be present in thousands of buildings across Australia. Whether they pose an acceptable safety risk, however, seems to be more about how the panels were installed and the nature of the building rather than the material in and of itself.
But that hasn’t stopped a quarter of a million residents and owners of 1,400 apartments across Victoria from planning a whopping $4.2 billion class action lawsuit. They want construction companies to be the ones who foot the bill for replacing combustible cladding. They’re also seeking “compensation”.
And law firm Adley Burstyner says Victoria is only just the start.
They’re actively looking to see if there’s interest in spreading the legal action to NSW and other states and territories, and then start looking at non-residential buildings.
“Experts have said our buildings are a ticking time bomb,” lawyer David Burstyner said.
On LinkedIn, Queensland’s Strata Community Association wondered if the fact that building ministers failed to address “government assistance for owners” at its latest meeting was a sign that “a legal response” could be next.
Combustible cladding. It’s an issue that is very much going up in flames.