No definitive cause identified but Opal Tower is structurally sound but needs significant rectification

No definitive cause identified but Opal Tower is structurally sound but needs significant rectification
No definitive cause identified but Opal Tower is structurally sound but needs significant rectification

The interim report on the issues affecting Sydney’s Opal Tower was released today.

It concluded the building is “structurally sound” but “significant rectification works are needed" to repair and strengthen damaged hob beams and panels. But the residents did not get the news they wanted about moving back in.

The investigators will continue to look at design and construction issues.

Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, thanked owners and residents for their support during the government’s independent investigation.

“I want upfront to thank the owners and residents for their patience throughout the last few weeks,” Mr Roberts said. 

“I can’t begin to comprehend the disruption this has caused to their lives, particularly at this time of year, and I thank them all sincerely for allowing the government’s investigation team and other teams to get on with their work”.

Mr Roberts pointed out that today’s document was an interim report which ruled out extreme weather, poor quality materials and issues with the foundations.

“We can confirm that, while the building is structurally sound, significant rectification works are required to repair and strengthen damaged hob beams and in some cases the panels that rest on them.

“However, while we have isolated the probable cause to localised structural design and construction issues, we need more information to make definitive conclusions about the cause or causes of the damage to this structure and the proposed rectification.

“We agree that the structural principles behind the rectification works are sound, but recommend independent oversight and review by qualified structural engineers before any major works begin.

“We also believe more work needs to be done to check the structural design of the hob beams and associated structural members with consideration given to strengthening them wherever they are in the building.

“We recommend that independent and qualified structural engineers be engaged to check final proposals in detail, before major rectification works begin.

“Re-occupation of Opal Tower extends beyond the scope of this investigation and was a matter for residents and the builder, subject to appropriate engineering and design oversight and guarantees."

Robert said more work is also needed before the government "can provide recommendations on what needs to happen to avoid incidents like this in future.”

“I have been impressed with the efforts of all parties to work together to get to the heart of the issues and to help owners and residents get access to their properties as quickly as possible.

“I trust that this independent interim report will be an important input to the discussions between the builders, the owners’ corporation and residents about moving people back into the building,” he said.

A full copy of the interim report is available here.

It arises that residents face more uncertainty about whether they should move back in.

There are another three ongoing investigations into what caused the cracking of concrete panels that sparked the evacuation of the owner occupier and rental occupants living in the Sydney Olympic Park building.

The NSW Government appointed two engineers to investigate: University of NSW dean of engineering Mark Hoffman and emeritus professor at the University of Newcastle’s School of Engineering John Carter.

Their interim report was handed to the government last week with Planning Minister Anthony Roberts issuing the report today.

The apartment’s body corporate has also hired an engineering firm Cardno to look into the problems and builder Icon Co has engaged Rincovitch Partners.

WSP, the original structural engineer involved in the project, is also investigating.

A previous statement issued by professors Hoffman and Carter updating progress on their investigation said initial assessments found no evidence of any issues with the foundations of the building, though “we believe that there are a number of design and construction issues that require further investigation”.

Sydney Olympic Park entered into an agreement with Ecove in March 2014 to undertake the residential development.

SOPA revealed to The Daily Telegraph this month that the total value of the transaction was $47.9 million.

The Daily Telegraph reported last month the purchasers bought their apartment from the government’s Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA)

A SOPA spokesman denied any potential ongoing liability for the government body.
 
"It would appear on paper people are buying apartments directly from SOPA but they're not.
 
"SOPA's obligations are limited to transferring title because SOPA are the original owner of the land," he said.
 
The Australian reported Sydney Olympic Park Authority, and not Ecove — the company that developed the land into Opal Tower — could be sued by apartment owners because of changes in building warranty laws designed to close a loophole in the NSW Home Building Act
Homeowners have two years to bring a claim if there are minor defects and six years for major defects. 

Changes to the act in 2010 meant that the owner of the property on which a building is built is considered the developer under the warranties, even if they did not engage the builder. 

Ecove has been described in the media as the developer but without having seen the agreement in place between it and SOPA (the Sydney Olympic Park Authority) to develop the site, in my view given the current state of the law it would appear to have no liability under the statutory warranties to the owners,” said Paul Jurdeczka, a strata lawyer with 20 years’ experience from Chambers Russell Lawyers. 

“Presumably SOPA could sue Ecove if sued, and Ecove would sue Icon in turn, but these are all issues for the lawyers. However, one of the three major players in the project has no direct liability to the owners if they had to sue under the statutory warranties, because of a loophole in the legislation and the law.”

Banjo Stanton, a lawyer who specialises in residential defect litigation, confirmed that under the Home Building Act, the owner of the land during construction was considered the “developer”.

“If Sydney Olympic Park Authority owned the land during construction, then the government — via SOPA — is definitely on the hook,” he said. 

“If the position is that Ecove was not the landowner or the builder, it’s clear on the current state of the law that Ecove will not have any liability under the Home Building Act.”

The site has been owned by the crown and was transferred in 1992 to the Homebush Bay Development Corporation. 

It was then passed to Sydney Olympic Park Authority when it was established in 2001.

A Sydney Olympic Park Authority spokesman said it entered into a Project Delivery Agreement with Australia Avenue Development on its land. 

“The PDA requires the developer to assume all risks in relation to those works,” he said.

“SOPA’s obligations under those contracts are limited to transferring title.”

The chairman of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority is former NSW premier John Fahey who had a pivotal role in securing the 2000 Olympic Games for Sydney.

He is famously remembered for leaping from his seat in 1993 at the Monaco ceremony where Sydney won the right to host the Games.

In addition to being the SOPA boss, Mr Fahey is also the chair of the Australian Building Codes Board — a role he assumed in November 2017.

The ABCB is a Council of Australian Government (COAG) standards writing body that is responsible for the development of the National Construction Code.

The ABCB is currently undertaking an administrative review of building construction standards across the country for the state and federal governments.

 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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