An agreement “in principle” to ban flammable aluminum composite cladding was a disappointing end to an annual meeting of state and federal building ministers, according to the Australian Institute of Architects. The ministers met in Hobart to discuss the Neo200 building fire in Melbourne along with the Opal Tower defects in Sydney. The agreement on a national ban to combustible cladding was made dependent on a “cost/benefit analysis” including “any unintended consequences” of the ban, according to a communiqué.
Clare Cousins, national president of the Institute, felt that the outcome of the Building Minister’s Forum would fall short of community expectations.
“This is unacceptable and fails even the most basic test of common sense,” said Cousins. “Prohibiting any further installation of such products, without any equivocation, should have been the starting point.
“Governments have an opportunity and responsibility, having identified the danger and risk posed by certain types of flammable cladding, to do something about it before any lives are lost.”
Ms Cousins criticised the forum for failing to fully implement the 24 recommendations in the Sherhold-Weir report, which the forum itself commissioned.
“[It] is an opportunity they appear to be squandering,” said Cousins. “A full year since receiving the Shergold-Weir report, all we have is a commitment to release a ‘joint implementation plan’ addressing its recommendations by the end of this month.
“There is no room to prevaricate when lives are at stake, it is as simple as that.”
The Institute is supporting proposed changes to the National Construction Code and the focus of ensured compliance.
Victoria government’s minister for planning, Richard Wynne, said ahead of the meeting that it would push for a nation-wide ban on combustible cladding.
“Victoria has pushed for a national response to flammable cladding ever since the 2014 Lacrosse fire but has been met with frustrating resistance from the federal government. Given the fire risk and the cost to apartment owners to fix cladded buildings, the most common-sense approach is to stop this material from coming in to the country all together – and we need federal government support to make that happen”, said Wynne.
Neo200 was included in a 2015 audit following a similar fire at the Lacrosse building in Docklands. “The City of Melbourne issued a building notice to ensure that any risks associated with cladding were addressed,” the council said. “Subsequently the City of Melbourne required the building owners to upgrade fire safety measures and this work was completed.”
The ABC reports that 30 more Melbourne CBD buildings, previously deemed safe, will be re-inspected for fire safety.