• VCAT

October 1, 2019

Victorian Government to fix combustible cladding of high risk buildings with new governing body

Combustible cladding is a major issue throughout Victoria and the government have committed to fund works to remove unsafe cladding following hundreds of high risk building being identified.

In 2017 the Victorian Cladding Taskforce was set up to address the issue and established a state wide audit. To date the audit has inspected over 2,200 buildings across the state.

Of the buildings that have been inspected 1069 buildings have been found to have combustible cladding. 72 have been found to be an extreme safety risk and a further 409 buildings have been found to be a high safety risk.

The audit involves an inspection of a building, followed by an assessment by an expert panel who assign a risk rating to the building.

The Cladding Taskforce released a report this year with 37 recommendations to overhaul the state’s approach to cladding. It addresses the systemic issues that led to unsafe cladding being used and the need for regulatory building reform.

Cladding Safety Victoria

The recently established Cladding Safety Victoria is one of the key recommendations from the report. This governing body has been set up as a one stop shop to oversee the removal of combustible cladding and provide funding and support to owners.

Buildings which have been audited and found to be high risk are referred to Cladding Safety Victoria who organise the rectification works with the highest risk buildings being prioritized.

15 buildings have been identified as the most at risk and will have their cladding fixed first. This includes the Neo 200 complex on Spencer Street, Melbourne which caught fire this year and required more than 80 firefighters to put out the blaze.

However moderate to low-risk buildings will not be eligible for funding and it will fall on the owners to foot the bill for removing combustible cladding. The government have estimated it will take at least five years to complete the rectification works.

Three classes of buildings have been included in the audit all built after March 1997 when combustible cladding began being widely used:

•             Class 2 buildings

Apartments that are three or more storeys.

•             Class 3 buildings

Hotels, motels and student accommodation that are three or more storeys.

•             Class 9 buildings

Hospitals, schools and aged care facilities that are two or more storeys.

The Victoria government has committed $600 million to help with the cladding crisis which will be delivered by Cladding Safety Victoria. However as the auditing continues more buildings will require funding to remove unsafe cladding and the cost to fix all high risk buildings has been estimated by some to run into the billions.

Increase cost of building permits 

It was announced in July that $300 million of the $600 million state budget for the works will come from taxpayers. The government will make up the other $300 million shortfall through a levy on building permits on buildings which have a cost of works of more than $800,000. This is the result of the Federal Government’s refusal to contribute to the fund due to the cladding being deemed a failure by state building regulations, and therefore the state’s responsibility.  

This will have a big impact on developers who will now have to pay higher fees for building permits. It has been estimated that the increase will apply to about six per cent of building permits but will exclude low-rise buildings such as single dwellings and townhouses. The Government is proposing a 700 per cent increase in the levy for new buildings valued at more than $1.5 million. For works around $800,000 the levy rate will double.

The Cladding Crisis 

Combustible cladding has been used in the building industry in Victoria over the past 20 years mostly due to its low cost as well as its light weight and insulating properties.

There are two types of cladding used on buildings that have been found to be flammable. These are aluminium composite panels or ‘ACP’ and expanded polystyrene or ‘EPS’. These types of cladding escalate fires quickly and cause them to spread.

The dangers of cladding were brought to public attention in Victoria following the 2014 fire at the Lacrosse building in Docklands. It was the first major building fire in Victoria caused by combustible cladding.

However this was only the start of concerns as in 2017 the Grenfell tower fire in the UK claimed the lives of 72 people. This put major pressure on Governments to tackle the problem and was a wakeup call for the Victorian State Government who the same year introduced their Cladding Taskforce.

How to find out if your building has combustible cladding 

If you want to know if your building has combustible cladding speak to the owner’s corporation or building manager who will be able to confirm if the building has been audited and what the results were.

You can look up the number of buildings with combustible cladding in your municipalityhere. If you are looking at purchasing an apartment or building VBA have released a fact sheet to help.

The Victorian Government have also announced they will be undertaking a review of the state’s Building Act to identify what legislative changes are required to better protect consumers.

Cladding Safety Victoria have released a list to improve safety measures in buildings; such as:

•             installing smoke alarms

•             fixing/unlocking emergency exits

•             removing ignition sources

•             Steps you can take to reduce the risk from cladding

•             Extinguish cigarettes safely

•             Keeping hallways clear to avoid obstructing occupants needing to exit the building

•             Not covering air-conditioning units with clothes or other materials

•             Keeping balconies clear of clutter and material such as clothing, boxes or rubbish

•             Ensuring barbecues and heaters are not used near combustible material.

•             Ensuring smoke alarms inside apartments are not covered or disconnected

•             Keeping fire stairwells and landings clear and not to store items within them

If you are an owner or owners corporation you are also legally required to:

•             Ensure the alarm and fire extinguishers have been maintained

•             Keep fire doors clear of obstructions, closed and unlocked at all times

•             Ensure all occupiers know the building’s evacuation plan and fire safety procedures