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Victorian Government Announces Major Reforms to Combat Cladding Risks

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The Victorian government has moved swiftly to toughen up the state’s inspection and compliance regimes in response to the newly-released interim report of the Victorian Cladding Taskforce.

The Victorian Building Authority is being directed to increase the number of compliance inspections it undertakes on buildings from less than two per cent a year to 10 per cent.

The VBA is also putting $5 million towards a state-wide audit of all residential buildings that are likely to have combustible aluminium composite [ACP] cladding installed. Any buildings found to be non-compliant will have rectify it.

“We’re taking action to overhaul the building industry and prevent the use of combustible cladding.” 

“We’re taking action to overhaul the building industry and prevent the use of combustible cladding,” Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynn said. “We’re giving the VBA the tools it needs to complete an unprecedented audit, and we’ll crack down on those who flout the rules.”

In addition, alterations will be made to the state’s building code; the code will be restricting the use of both ACPs with a polyethylene [PE] PE core and expanded polystyrene [EPS] on any Victorian building higher than two storeys.

The Government also intends to appoint a leading expert to the newly-created role of State Building Inspector.

The Interim Report outlines the extent of combustible cladding on buildings. To date the Taskforce has identified up to 1,400 buildings as most likely having ACPs with a PE core or EPS.

So far no building has been subject to an evacuation order. Nevertheless, those identified as having the flammable cladding are required to put in place safety measures such as sprinklers, alarms, or evacuation procedures while rectification works are carried out.

The Government also intends to appoint a leading expert to the newly-created role of State Building Inspector. 

Residential buildings are not the only ones in the spotlight; the government is also taking action to address cladding on publicly-owned buildings, including hospitals.

A Department of Health and Human Services audit has already examined 1,100 buildings and has identified eight hospitals where non-compliant flammable cladding must be replaced. One of them, the Royal Women’s Hospital, has rectification works already underway.

The remaining non-compliant buildings will be made compliant within three years, and a further 12 hospitals are still being assessed.

Rectification work is also soon to commence at Lacrosse, the Docklands tower that sparked concerns about cladding around Australia, following a fire that had raced up the face of the building in November 2014.

Lacrosse’s builder, L.U. Simon Builders, has been involved in a protracted Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal case over the degree to which architects Ellenberg Fraser and other parties, including the building surveyor, should be liable for any costs incurred in bringing the building up to a compliant standard.

The remaining non-compliant buildings will be made compliant within three years, and a further 12 hospitals are still being assessed. 

This month, L.U. Simon has announced it would pay the bill for removing the non-compliant PE-core ACP cladding, Alucobest, and then replacing it with a product  compliant with the National Construction Code.

“Following efforts on the part of the VBA and City of Melbourne, the VBA is pleased to see LU Simon's announcement that it will replace the cladding on the Lacrosse building by mid-2018,” the VBA said in a statement.

“The VBA encourages LU Simon to make similar undertakings with respect to bringing into compliance the six other buildings identified as part of the VBA audit.”

The Cladding Taskforce is Co-Chaired by former Premier and qualified architect, Ted Baillieu, and former Deputy Premier and Minister for Planning, Professor John Thwaites.

“Everyone from builders to suppliers and the regulator need to lift their game,” Mr Baillieu said. “We want to see maximum levels of compliance and more of an effort from the industry to accept responsibility and ensure everyone is safe.”

One of the Taskforce’s key findings was that there are three factors that contributed to the widespread use of non-compliant cladding. 

One of the Taskforce’s key findings was that there are three factors that contributed to the widespread use of non-compliant cladding: the supply and marketing of inappropriate building materials; a poor culture of compliance in the industry; and the failure of the regulatory system to deal with these issues.

“There has been a culture of non-compliance throughout the building sector that meant combustible cladding had become a widespread material used on multi-storey buildings,” Professor Thwaites said. “This culture has to change.”

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