Much has been written recently on the issue of fires in buildings not only in Victoria but also elsewhere, including overseas, where the combustible cladding placed on the outside of buildings has contributed to the fire which occurred being exacerbated.

There are now changes on the way in Victoria, which the other states which will likely be looking on with keen interest, and which are set to ‘arrive’ in July 2018.

Part of the impetus for the changes is arguably the public cladding issues. Officially, however, the changes are the result of the government reviewing a set of building regulations which were up for ‘sunset review’ due to the effluxion of time where the regulations may have expired and so ceased to have effect.

Industry and the public generally have been consulted. In any event, the timing of the review and the resultant changes and some of the issues which have been addressed all tie in timing wise in the sense of the cladding issues. Part of the public consultation process did result in comments as to concerns made as to non-compliant building products for construction of multi unit developments. Generally speaking, some of the reforms are purposed to address and assist to achieve improved fire safety in such buildings.

Broadly speaking, some of the changes are intended to improve the documentation which goes into and which relate to applications for building permits in the sense of improving and increasing the information which goes into them. The reforms to cladding are strictly being addressed through the avenue of the cladding taskforce.

On to the reforms: the list of additional information the relevant building surveyor may request in considering a building permit application has been expanded. Extra information is now required on the building permit, being the nature relating it to the provisions of the National Construction Code, whether or not protection work is required and a list of the determinations the building surveyor has made in regards to consent for partial exemptions or compliance.

When there has been a performance solution put forward, the building surveyor has to record not just the fact of approval, but he or she also has to record their reasons for their view as to that approval.

As to building permits, there is now to be a strict requirement, enforceable by way of an infringement notice, to have displayed on site in a public and prominent location, building permit information, namely contact details of the builder and building surveyor and date of issue and number of the permit. There is also additional information and documentation which now has to be given to council in regards to the property and the building permit.

In line with the increased information which must be provided generally as to building permits and associated things is the requirement which is going to be phased in on 1 July 2019. The building surveyor will be required to report a whole raft of things to the Victorian Building Authority in regards to building permits issued.

The next change is that it has now been clarified that once a building permit lapses, works cannot continue and the owner cannot allow them to continue. Penalties apply to both the builder and the owner in cases of breach. Also, the building surveyor now has to notify imminent lapses of building permits. New slightly expanded provisions exist for extensions of building permits.

A new, slightly expanded provision says that a building surveyor (the registered building surveyor [RBS] rather than the municipal building surveyor) determines if the works require protection works and the protection works process needs to be engaged and the determination as to whether such works are required is to be given to the owner or the applicant (the builder) within seven days. There is a new list of factors, documents and information that an RBS must consider in making such a determination. There are other minor changes to the regulations in respect of protection works.

As to fire safety considerations, the retrospective requirement that all residential buildings are to have an automatic smoke detection and alarm system has been updated to reflect the latest standard in the National Construction Code. Of course, building surveyors can still issue a building notice order or emergency order.

There are mandatory notification stages in the construction of buildings now for certain stages of construction, demolition or removal of a building and for construction of a swimming pool or spa. That is, these mandatory notifications are to do with what is to be notified to the relevant building authority. The RBS still has to record the required mandatory inspection stages on the building permit.

Importantly, the RBS must, in new specific regulations, ensure that fire and smoke building elements are inspected. In addition, it will be a condition of occupying a building that ESMs are inspected, tested and maintained. The relevant occupancy permit must be displayed in an approved location and breach can result in an offence being recorded by way of infringement notice.

A whole raft of other more ‘miscellaneous’ changes are being introduced to expand upon previous provisions, including different forms (sometimes non-mandatory) with more detail being required on them. Overall, it seems the changes may be beneficial in the sense that more information is potentially now being provided generally, but as always, it will be left to time to figure out what if any real effect the changes have in fact made.