It could take two years to replace flammable cladding in Melbourne, says building authority | Australia news


Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne says removing flammable cladding from the most high-risk buildings in Melbourne is a “complex problem which will take some time to fix properly.”

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has said it could take two years to remove and replace combustible aluminium polyethylene composite panels from high rise apartments and hotels around the city.

The buildings were identified in an audit ordered following the fatal Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017. The speed of that fire, which killed 72 people, was attributed to aluminium composite cladding which allowed flames to race up the 120-storey building.

Of the 2,000 buildings audited so far, 360 have been found to be high risk, 280 of moderate risk, and 140 of low risk.

The Neo200 apartment building on Spencer Street, which caught fire last week, was classified to be a moderate risk.

An earlier audit conducted in 2016, following a 2014 fire in the Lacrosse Building, an apartment block in Melbourne’s Docklands, found that half of the 170 buildings that were surveyed were not compliant with Australian building regulations around the use of aluminium composite cladding.

Last year those regulations were tightened in Victoria to ban the use of aluminium composite panels that contain more than 30% polyethylene.

Victoria is pushing for a national ban on the import of such panels and received in-principle agreement at the national building minister’s forum on Friday, subject to industry consultation.

Wynne said the national ban was “the next logical step” to protect against the use of combustible cladding.

“A national ban will ensure consistency around what products are coming over the border. The next step is to look at what’s being manufactured and imported,” he said. “We will take whatever action is appropriate to remove these dangerous products from the supply chain.”

A spokeswoman for the VBA said that 200 building notices had been issued as part of the cladding audit, in most cases calling for cladding to be removed, but that rectifying the issue “can be complicated.”

“Building notices typically ask the owners to ‘show cause’ why all combustible cladding should not be removed,” she said.

“The owners respond by developing a plan to address the cladding and fire safety issues with expert advice. Potential scenarios include full replacement, partial replacement around key areas such as balconies and exits, or enhanced fire safety systems including sprinklers.”

Grenfell Tower did not have an internal sprinkler system.

Owners are required to notify all tenants of a building notice and also include it in the section 32 statements that are supplied to prospective buyers.

Laws introduced last year include a new funding three-way model that would allow owners’ corporations to take out a commercial loan to replace cladding and then pay it back through their council rates in an effort to encourage owners to act more quickly, but so far that model has not been used.

Tenants who live in buildings that are three or more storeys high and built after 1997 have been advised to contact their landlord, or the body corporate of their building, for information about whether their building has been audited.

Fire safety advice, including a recommendation that barbecues not be placed alongside cladding on high-rise balconies, has been published in 10 languages on the VBA website.



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