Cladding a high risk in 100 towers but NSW drags the chain
More than 100 apartment and office buildings in the City of Sydney have been classified as at “high risk” of fire because of flammable cladding, as the NSW government fails to fulfil a promise to help homeowners remove the highly combustible product.
New figures obtained by The Australian reveal that 118 buildings with combustible cladding in the City of Sydney have been issued fire safety notices, with 103 of those sites categorised by the NSW Cladding Taskforce as “high risk”, posing an immediate threat to thousands of occupants.
Residents of the buildings live in fear of a repeat of London’s Grenfell Tower blaze in June 2017 when a fire in a kitchen raced up the exterior of the 23-storey building, killing 72 people. But the NSW government has failed to produce crucial plans regarding the rollout of Project Remediate, a three-year program designed to support homeowners with the removal of combustible cladding.
The $139m project was announced at the beginning of last November to assist with interest-free loans for the rectification of residential buildings, but the government has yet to unveil details of the project’s framework — passing its assigned 2020 deadline.
Details of its design were due to be made public in December, but a government spokesman said a “COVID blip” had delayed its rollout.
Owners have expressed anger and confusion at the lack of support available to residents in unsafe buildings. Rave Mawjee, who bought an apartment in the Quattro building with his family in 2015, said nothing was done to help when a fire safety notice was issued “out of the blue”.
“There’s absolutely no assistance from people in government, council or from the developers … Fair Trading was completely useless,” he said. “We are just left on our own in an unsafe building to investigate materials we know nothing about.”
Robert Caraian, who lives with his wife in a cladded high-rise in Crows Nest, said “everybody seems to have done the right thing — the developers, builders and architects — except the owner who made the mistake of moving into the building”. “In the end, people could die,” he said.
Last April a parliamentary inquiry concluded that the response of the NSW government had been “wholly inadequate”.
“The risk is too great for government not to take action and help homeowners in removing flammable cladding from their buildings,” the inquiry said.
“We do not want a Grenfell Tower crisis here in NSW before the government is forced to take meaningful action.
Professor Michael Buxton at RMIT said: “The risks from the materials (aluminium combustible cladding) are clear. We are dealing with the potential for high-risk buildings to be turned into outside chimneys … basically solidified petrol with fire that can race up the side of buildings.
“It’s a terrible indictment on governments and the failure of our regulatory systems more broadly.”
In July, the Victorian government announced a $600m rectification package, with the state’s measures further bolstered by Monday’s announcement that all aluminium composite panels will be banned from use as external cladding on multi-storey developments. Asked about the differences in the NSW and Victorian approaches, Jonathan Barnett, national chair of the Society of Fire Safety, said Victoria “seems to be getting it broadly right”.