Strata body says government should ‘throw the book’ at builders using flammable cladding

After the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London NSW set up a combustible cladding taskforce.

After the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London NSW set up a combustible cladding taskforce. Photo: AAP

Victoria’s peak strata body has urged government authorities to go after surveyors and builders linked to the use of flammable cladding.

Strata Community Association Victoria (SCAV) has called on government authorities to “throw the book at” builders who are still using flammable cladding products, and to issue life bans in worst-case scenarios.

SCAV general manager Rob Beck said it was “totally reckless for both builders and building surveyors to keep using such dangerous cladding materials when clearly they pose an enormous public risk”.

“The last 12 months have been a horror story for apartment owners and strata communities,” Mr Beck said.

“Just this month, Canberra’s Glebe Park apartment residents avoided a potential disaster scenario linked to combustible cladding.

“We hope that in the worst-case scenario, repeat offenders are banned for life because ultimately … lives are at stake.”

Mr Beck’s comments come after the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) suspended building surveyor Kamran Zand Basiri on “public interest grounds”, after he was found to have signed off on five apartment blocks with combustible cladding.

Mr Basiri has lodged an appeal with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) but faces permanent suspension if he loses the appeal.

Melbourne apartment fire

A fire at the Neo200 building in Melbourne in February renewed public interest in Australia’s use of combustible cladding. Photo: Twitter

Asked whether the VBA was preparing more legal cases against surveyors or builders, a spokesperson told The New Daily that the building authority would “continue to investigate and discipline practitioners who break the rules”.

“The dangers of combustible cladding are well known,” the spokesperson added.

“No builder or building surveyor can convincingly claim they do not know it is inappropriate to use or approve this type of material on a building.’’

The VBA’s suspension of Mr Basiri drew praise from SCAV’s Mr Beck, who said the move would hopefully deter others from signing off on buildings with dodgy cladding.

Leader of the Victorian Greens Samantha Ratnam also applauded the VBA’s move, but said governments needed to beef up legislation to tackle the problem of slipping construction standards.

“The [combustible cladding] situation has highlighted some real gaps and weaknesses in the current legislation governing building defects,” Dr Ratnam told The New Daily.

“The initial case against [the Lacrosse Tower] builder failed because the laws weren’t strong enough.

“This is something the Parliament should look to rectify. Strong rules plus enforcement is needed to raise the standard of building work.”

Building defects

A recent report by Deakin University highlighted the prevalence of defects in high-rise towers.

About 900 apartment blocks in Victoria alone are covered in combustible cladding, according to the VBA.

In New South Wales, the state’s Cladding Taskforce has so far found 553 “high-risk” buildings, and in Queensland, the full scale of the problem won’t be understood until the state finishes its audit in 2021.

Based on 800 buildings with combustible cladding in Victoria, Builders Collective of Australia suggested it could cost anywhere between $162.5 million and $7.8 billion to rectify the state’s cladding issue.

But the Victorian government has so far only set aside $600 million for rectification works, while the NSW and Qld governments have maintained that individual owners should pay for repairs.

In the weeks since the Victorian government announced it would allocate $600 million of taxpayer money towards removing flammable cladding from high-risk buildings, owners have complained that the government’s cladding response has been disjointed, disorganised and confused.

Many still haven’t been told whether the government will pay to remove the flammable cladding from their building, and some say they have received conflicting advice from the VBA, Cladding Safety Victoria and their local council.

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