In the wake of London apartment building fire, many questions are being asked about building control.

The fire also sparked a review of buildings and including those in Australia. The fact that something like London fire and the Lacrosse building fire could happen seems unbelievable but on closer review it is all but inevitable. We may just have grabbed the tiger by the tail.

Thanks to our corrupt and inept Building Commission, which started as the Building Control Commission, then dropped control from its title – and seemingly from its duties – our building control remains firmly frozen in the last century.

What do you get when you allow profit to rule unchecked and with impunity? This is what I had to say in a report about a completed and occupied multi-storey apartment, building in SE suburbs of Melbourne:

“This building is poorly built and unfinished with shoddy workmanship readily on display, however closer inspection revealed substantial non-compliance with approved drawings and non-conformance with design details. My brief is to arrive at likely cost of rectification of defects and completion in accordance with the design. The cost estimate is included with this report. As a matter of duty of care I have to advise that there is likely prospect that this building is unsafe for occupation and immediate reassessment of essential services and fire protection elements is highly recommended.”

The report offered up a litany of defects and issues that needed addressing. Among them:

  • missing aluminium finish to the front façade and around window shading frames
  • missing timber finish to the rear elevation
  • the timber finish on the front elevation was smaller than it was designed for
  • missing or ill-fitting aluminium screens over windows
  • no evidence of sprinkler protection to the windows as required by fire engineering
  • sound attenuation screens missing from external faces of windows
  • housing for fire hydrants and gas meters was not constructed as required by fire protection services
  • fire doors were undersized and not fitted with smoke seals as required
  • fire protection collars around services and outlets in floors and walls were not fitted as specified
  • ground floor escape doors swing against escape route traffic and one could not be fully opened
  • shower bases were built on top of the slab floor instead of set into it
  • shower screens leaked
  • power points were too close to basins and sinks
  • sinks and kitchen joinery were not as per the plan
  • laundry doors were too small and a nib not shown on the plan was creating issues
  • the tiles around the balcony had defective sealing, and grout was already calcifying
  • windows did not slide properly

This building exhibits a lack of skill and care in construction, a lack of project and quality control, poor workmanship, defective, incomplete, non complying and non conforming work.

Given the extensive non-conformance with the approved drawings there must be serious concerns about safety compliance. In my opinion, this building is unsafe for occupation.

The work required to complete and bring this building into conformance is extensive and will be extremely costly due to having to carry out major works whilst building is occupied.

Recommendations for this building include an urgent review of all safety elements, particularly fire protection elements.

Profit rules, and developers can often profit from omission, from substitution, from deviating from approved drawings, from not spending on supervision and control during construction. Developers get to be obscenely rich.

What do we get? Poorly built housing stock, with reduced longevity. Occupants’ lives are at risk. If found guilty of transgressions, developers will buy their freedom, lawyers will be made obscenely rich, and the public will remain at risk.