With the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne, the Opal Tower scenario in Sydney, along with other fires and building safety and defect issues in buildings in Australia and overseas, we are increasingly seeing that prior to the drama occurring, the problems or potential problems with the building were known.
With the Opal Tower situation for example, about a year prior, a report existed which showed that at least with other buildings, allegations about defective construction were being reported. The report followed the Lacrosse building issue mentioned above as well as the Grenfell fire in the UK. As the Grenfell fire was so catastrophic, with 72 people losing their lives, authorities worldwide began to look at the situation in their own backyards. It is submitted that this occurred too late. The issues ought to have been addressed earlier.
Some of the issues in the UK apply, or potentially apply, in Australia (and Canada and the USA for example as well as other countries). Issues which commonly arose were non-compliant cladding, water leakage, structural soundness and, of course, fire safety. Often it seems, owners corporations and regulatory authorities are scrambling around after the event to address the concerns. This is not good enough, particularly when people’s (and potentially large numbers of people) safety is at stake – not to mention the risks to property. As others have said, not only in Victoria but also elsewhere, the system is broken and/or in crisis. The external cladding issues ‘roll on.’
Upon one glance at the skyline in any capital city, one senses that high-rise and multi-storey buildings are becoming far more common. It is in this context that many of these issues arise. It is possible that there are hundreds if not thousands of occupants in such buildings.
There are, of course, construction codes and standards that have to be followed. But the issue is that many of these are not being followed or complied with. It is an exceedingly difficult question as to what are the multi-factoral reasons for this and this is best left for a future article. No blame at this stage is being put on any particular players. The issue is that often people’s biggest investment in their lives are being put at risk and are too often leading to significant detrimental impacts on them as owners through no fault of their own. Confidence in the industry is being seriously eroded.
There is so much talk in the industry about what can be done. In Australia, despite the fact that we are one country, there are often multiple regulatory approaches and/or systems of building industry regulation. This adds to complexity and time and cost being spent on addressing the issues potentially for all players. In addition, multiple authorities and industry players are involved and provide input. Among others, these included builders, building certifiers, fire safety experts and emergency responders, state governments and agencies.
Many say a root cause of many of the problems is non-compliant building products (and this is not just confined to cladding). Unfortunately, supplies and or manufacturers are often engaged in a trade-off between cost and quality. High numbers of builders are anecdotally experiencing poor quality or even downright defective building products which are thereby meant to be used on projects. This creates potential delays, costs and lost time well as building defect issues down the track. The issue can often arise from lack of accountability on manufacturers and suppliers, particularly where these parties are located overseas. This then creates difficulties in enforcement of building standards and codes.
Let’s hope that in time, the picture becomes brighter and more optimistic.
But at the risk of seeming to be overly cynical, one lacks confidence in this being the case.