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Victoria goes hard on cladding but NSW remains limp

The Victorian government has pledged to severely restrict the use of problem cladding and step up its compliance activity after release of interim recommendations from the Victorian Cladding Taskforce.

Meanwhile the NSW Department of Planning has put an amendment out for public comment that would put the burden of proving and rectifying non-compliance onto building owners.

The Victorian taskforce has estimated that there are up to 1400 multi-residential, accommodation and public buildings that may have either combustible aluminium composite panels or flammable expanded polystyrene cladding installed.

As part of its response to the Taskforce’s recommendations, the government has pledged to severely restrict the use of either polyethylene core aluminium composite panels or expanded polystyrene cladding on any building higher than two storeys.

The government has also directed the Victorian Building Authority to increase random compliance inspections of worksites and buildings, from less than two per cent of projects a year to 10 per cent.

It is also to assist with an expanded state-wide audit of residential and public use buildings that are likely to have combustible cladding. The VBA is providing $5 million for the audit, and any buildings found non-compliant will have to be rectified.

“We’re taking action to overhaul the building industry and prevent the use of combustible cladding,” Victorian planning minister Richard Wynne said.

“We’re giving the VBA the tools it needs to complete an unprecedented audit and we’ll crack down on those who flout the rules.”

An audit by the Department of Health and Human Services has found that out of 1100 health buildings, eight hospitals have non-compliant cladding and 12 others require further assessment.

Rectification works have commenced already at the Royal Women’s Hospital, with Lendlease to foot the bill for removing and replacing flammable ACP cladding, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Lacrosse builder LU Simon will also shoulder the financial responsibility for removing and replacing the building’s flammable Alucobest cladding.

In a media statement, the VBA said it was “pleased” to see the announcement, which followed concerted efforts to get the builder to step up by both the VBA and the City of Melbourne.

The cladding replacement is expected to be complete by mid-2018, the VBA said.

“The VBA encourages LU Simon to make similar undertakings with respect to bringing into compliance the six other buildings [it constructed] identified as part of the VBA audit.”

VBA says it can and will try harder

Flaws in the inspection and compliance regimes were pinpointed in the taskforce report. The VBA issued a mea culpa in response.

“The VBA welcomes the recommendations provided by the Victorian Cladding Taskforce and has already begun the job of implementing them.

“We understand this is a huge task and a complex issue that requires everybody to lift their game, including the VBA. We acknowledge that we need to do more, and we will.

“From here on in, Victorians can expect the VBA to be inspecting more buildings and building sites and using the full extent of the powers provided to us to address this issue as quickly as possible.”

The culture needs to change

Flaws in the compliance and inspection regimes were identified by the taskforce as one of the key reasons non-compliant use of cladding became so widespread. Other factors included the supply and marketing of inappropriate building materials, substitution of non-compliant products between the approval and construction phase, and a “poor culture of compliance”.

“There has been a culture of non-compliance throughout the building sector that has meant combustible cladding has become a widespread material used on multi-storey buildings,” co-chair John Thwaites said.

“This culture has to change.”

As part of its reforms the government will also be appointing a State Building Inspector with expertise to provide technical knowledge and guidance.

“Everyone from builders to suppliers and the regulator need to lift their game,” taskforce co-chair Ted Baillieu said.

“We want to see maximum levels of compliance and more of an effort from the industry to accept responsibility and ensure everyone is safe.”

So what about NSW then?

Compared to the Victorian response, and the recently passed Queensland supply chain responsibility legislation and cladding ban, things are a bit grim in NSW.

As part of its response to the combustible cladding issue, the NSW government has just released a draft amendment to the EP&A Act that would put the onus for proof and protective measures – and the financial impost of them – onto owners of multi-residential properties that potentially have combustible cladding.

The draft regulation proposes that owners of buildings suspected to have combustible cladding are required to report and register them, and engage a fire safety engineer or other expert to undertake a fire safety assessment.

Owners may also be forcibly directed by local councils or other authorities to undertake the reporting and assessment process.

Public comments on the draft are being taken until 16 February 2018. Have your say here.

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