When I first saw London tower fire, I thought it was an act of terror.
It wasn't, but is rampant greed that kills people and puts many other people’s lives at risk so much better?
Those who died - as well as those who survived - were indeed terrorised.
From the information available now, it is clear the tragedy was preventable and only happened because of cost stripping. Cost stripping is an act of greed, deception and fraud, and is rampant in the building industry. It is also clear that many other buildings are affected and that thousands of people worldwide are at risk of death or injury.
Why is this so?
Firstly, developers will typically commission architects for a building design to be submitted for planning permit approval. Architects are almost invariably competent professionals and would never specify non-conforming product. So the picture presented to the council is that of competently designed and compliant building.
Secondly, once a planning permit and building permits are secured, greed kicks in and cost stripping starts. Everything and anything is a target for omission, or for substitution for cheaper product. Nothing is sacred, deviations from approved plans are common and there is no quality control, as that costs money.
Thirdly, developments will gleefully be sold off the plan to unsuspecting purchasers who think they will get what is on the gloss. Little will they know it’s a scam and they will be cheated.
So we have an act of greed, a scam, that is deceiving councils, building surveyors and defrauding purchasers. In the name of greed, it is giving us poorly built buildings with reduced longevity, putting occupants at health and safety risks.
I have seen many buildings in Melbourne that are not only a fire risk to occupants but also a health risk through dampness and mould. One of those was a 30-plus apartment block that was chronically leaking for years. Some of the occupants had to keep buckets in their units.
My summary for the property read:
“This building has suffered from chronic water leaks and dampness for years despite the builder returning many times with unsuccessful “silicone” fix. Inspection and review has found design and construction defects, deviance from and lack of conformance with approved drawings. Substantial rectification works are recommended to roof and external walls of the building and including rebuilding of balcony tiling to rectify leaks and dampness."
And in the body of the report:
1) This building is the subject of chronic leaks and dampness as a consequence of failure of design and construction to address performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia.
2) Builder has failed to follow approved plans and is primarily responsible for building defects.
3) Although in my view some design detailing is inadequate, this could have been addressed to a large extent, had Architects been employed to supervise construction contract.
4) Builder has not only deviated from approved plans but has also omitted to include features of the building design."
In answer to my brief, I had to declare that:
- The building does not comply with approved drawings.
- The building does not conform to scope and quality of workmanship.
- The building is substantially defective.
- The building is substantially incomplete because of omissions.
- The building has not met performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia because it leaks.
Recommendations were as follows:
"Immediate attention is to be given to redesign of roof water collection and disposal system. New design is required address problems of roof non-conformance with approved drawings. It is anticipated that among other essential works gutter will be reworked and new downpipes fitted. New rain heads and overflows need to be constructed and all flashings need to be refitted with proper groove entry into walls and sealed.
Failure to provide slab set down at balconies is a catastrophic error that cannot be fixed. Instead it is recommended that all external windows and walls for the full extent of set down be demolished on all three levels and rebuilt after a new concrete hob integral with concrete slab is constructed.
Balcony tiling constructed without sufficient grade and or leaking is to be demolished and rebuilt after new waterproofing membrane is completed.
Builder to be compelled to provide and include items omitted from drawings or compensate owners.
Given that the builder has returned many times in an unsuccessful attempts to fix leaks, it is clear that the required works are beyond his competence and remedial works should be carried out by another builder skilled in rectification of building leaks and dampness."
We need to control developers and ban cost stripping. It should be made illegal to modify design and specification of the building after it has received planning and building approval. It should be illegal and punishable by jail to substantially deviate from approved plans and specifications. The architects that designed the building should be kept on for project monitoring and to sign off that the building as built is strictly compliant with the design and specification. Architects do care about their projects; developers only care about the profit.
Finally, fraud is a crime not a civil offence. Those developers and builders who cheat purchasers and owners, and deceive councils, are criminals and should go to jail.
Then we could be sure we get as designed and specified buildings, and purchasers could be sure they are not defrauded. Then we could affirm that we are a first world country and not a sister state to a third world.