Former Victoria premier to head taskforce on flammable cladding probe

Former Victoria premier to head taskforce on flammable cladding probe
Former Victoria premier to head taskforce on flammable cladding probe

London’s Grenfell Tower fire has prompted the Victorian government to set up a the taskforce to speed up the investigation into how widely flammable cladding has been used on high-rise buildings in the state.

The Victorian Cladding Taskforce will be jointly chaired by former premier Ted Baillieu, who is also an architect, and former deputy premier and minister for planning, John Thwaites, according to the Real Estate Conversation.

The taskforce will comprise of representatives from Worksafe Victoria, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Victorian Building Authority, the Municipal Association of Victoria and Emergency Management Victoria.

Leading strata management body Strata Community Australia (Vic) has welcomed the government move.

But it said in a media release that flammable aluminium cladding was just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the taskforce’s terms of reference must be widened to address unsafe glass panels, and other materials risking lives. 

The Grenfell Tower fire in June killed more than 80 people, and stoked up the fire safety issue around high-rises, both in England and in Australia. 

British audits have revealed 120 high-rise buildings use cladding and insulation similar to that installed at the Grenfell Tower.

In 2014, aluminium composite cladding, similar to that used on the Grenfell tower, was found to have contributed to the spread of a fire at the Lacrosse building in Melbourne's Docklands.

Strata Community Australia had earlier expressed concerns that hundreds of apartment and unit complexes in Victoria may be underinsured.

“The underinsurance of apartments and units could be catastrophic, potentially resulting in millions lost for property owners,” it said.

Commenting on the taskforce, Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said: "We’re bringing together the key agencies to better detect and address the issue of materials used in a non-compliant way.”

A separate stakeholder reference group, including the building unions, the Master Builders Association of Victoria, and the Housing Industry Association, will also be created, the Real Estate Conversation reported.

The taskforce will be set the mandate of inspecting thousands of apartment blocks built in the last 12 years, but instead of inspections focusing on just one material, Strata Community Australia (Vic) is pushing for the taskforce to make these visits a ‘done once, done right’ experience. 

“The news of thousands of buildings receiving government funded inspections and testing in Victoria is excellent progress, but the building defects crisis unfortunately is not isolated to one material alone,” its general manager Rob Beck said. 

With the growing popularity of glass panel facades and cladding, the threat of substandard products of this variety coming into the market rise too and should prompt quick action, added Beck.

“Similar to the recent Grenfell fire regarding flammable aluminium cladding, we must not wait until a glass panel explodes on a couple sitting on their balcony, or falls to the street below crashing down onto pedestrians.

“There is ample information to suggest this is a problem right now, and we are eager to see these high risk materials dealt with at the same time as flammable cladding, not after.” 

He also said it was not desirable to expect Victorian property owners to bear the expense for remediation “while those causing the issues escape any penalties”.

Though there were no deaths in the Lacrosse Apartments blaze, the owners last year served a $16 million dollar bill to rectify the building, roughly sitting at $40,000 per owner, he said.

Tags: 
Safety Grenfell Tower

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