NSW bans combustible cladding

NSW bans combustible cladding

24 August 2018

Owners of potentially thousands of NSW buildings will have to replace their cladding after NSW retrospectively banned aluminium panels with a core of more than 30 per cent polyethylene, reports the AFR.

Corporations will be fined up to $1.1 million and individuals up to $220,000 for use of the building product under the ban, which came into force on August 15.

The move comes in the aftermath of the 2014 fire at Lacrosse tower in Docklands and the fatal Grenfell Tower fire in London last year.

The ban announced by Fair Trading Commissioner Rose Webb goes further than those imposed by the Queensland and Victoria state governments because it also affects existing buildings, rather than just those in planning or under construction.

“Having considered a broad range of sources, including public submissions, expert advice, national and international reports, and NSW Cladding Taskforce data, I am satisfied that there is a safety risk posed by this building product,” Ms Webb said.

“The building product is unsafe for use in any external cladding, external wall, external insulation, façade or rendered finish in buildings,” she said, adding “I am giving manufacturers at least 48 hours’ notice of the intention to impose the ban.”

The number of buildings affected by the ban is unclear.

In June this year, the NSW government said Fire & Rescue NSW had assessed 2,280 buildings and found 417 in need of closer scrutiny.

A register of buildings with combustible cladding, drawn up in the wake of an audit conducted by the NSW Cladding Taskforce, is due to come into effect this year but it may not be public.

A similar task force assembled in Queensland revealed as many as 12,000 buildings could have been built with flammable cladding, requiring further investigation with at least 70 requiring rectification work.

In the short term, the ban will make little practical difference to building owners, already under significant pressure from insurers to rectify potentially dangerous cladding.

“Their insurance companies have already put pressure on them in that regard,” said Stuart Rickerby, an independent cladding consultant.

“It just gives legislative power to it.”

A recent forum of state and territory building ministers agreed to work with insurers and professional bodies to respond in a united way to cladding-related exposure that threatens to leave certifiers and surveyors without professional liability insurance, says The Fifth Estate.

The Building Ministers’ Forum was slammed, however, by the Australian Institute of Architects, which accused the BMF of dragging their feet on an issue that could have catastrophic consequences if ignored, The Australian reported.

Although several states have introduced or amended laws to ban polyethylene core aluminium composite cladding, Institute president Richard Kirk said the report went further, with recommendations about the collection and sharing of data and intelligence, effective regulatory powers and consistent requirements for registration.

“Best-practice regulation and compliance with the National Construction Code is critical or the whole industry’s reputation, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports will be jeopardised,” he said.

The NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Kean, said the BMF agreed to prioritise the report’s key recommendations rather than waiting for consensus on every recommendation.

“The BMF will work through the entire Shergold Weir report, but it’s important we don’t delay action on the key reforms that we can get started on now,” Mr Kean said.

One of the UK’s top expert advisers on cladding, Gary Strong, a member of the UK’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel consulting to the Secretary of State for Housing told the AFR Australian governments will have to underwrite or fund the rectification of combustible cladding on residential buildings as an increasing number of apartment owners become unable to do so, warned on Thursday.

In the UK, as many as 600 public and privately-owned buildings with polyethylene core aluminium cladding have created a stalemate over rectification costs that would likely require tapping the public purse and Australia would find itself in the same position, said Mr Strong.

“Ultimately you’re going to come up against the same problems as we are in the UK, where we’ve got this stalemate going on where people are saying ‘We know we’ve got an unsafe building, we know we need to remediate it, who’s going to pay for it?'” he added.

Victoria said it would introduce a low-cost loan scheme to allow apartment owners to reclad their buildings and pay back the cost over time through their rates, however this may well affect apartment values.

This week, Victoria’s Buildings Practitioners Board found that LU Simon director Jim Moschoyiannis had breached the state’s Building Act by installing the non-compliant polyethylene-core cladding—which subsequently caused fire to race up 13 levels of Melbourne’s 21-storey Lacrosse building in as little as 10 minutes one night in 2014, says the AFR.

The board will hold a hearing next month in which it could impose a range of penalties from a fine to cancelling the registration of Mr Moschoyiannis

“The fact that the Lacrosse builder could be prosecuted sends a real message to the industry,” said Scott Higgins, a construction partner at law firm Mills Oakley.

Read the full regulation here.