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Cladding ban announced

 

By Jack Alfonso

All future multi-storey developments are now prohibited from using high-risk cladding products for external wall cladding.

The Minister for Planning and Housing Richard Wynne made the announcement on February 1 basing the decision on expert advice which found that combustible cladding contributed to the spread of fire when used inappropriately on specific buildings.

The announcement comes more than six years after the blaze at the Lacrosse building at LaTrobe St in Docklands, which triggered a state inquiry into the issue.

The ban prohibits the use of flammable aluminium composite panels and rendered expanded polystyrene, applies to the use of these materials on apartments, hotels, and aged care facilities with two or more storeys, and to office buildings, shopping centres, and retail premises such as warehouses, factories, and car parks with three or more storeys.

Minister Wynne said that the state government was “continuing to act” on the “most up to date expert advice” on combustible cladding, adding that “anyone caught flouting this ban will face significant penalties.”

The fines can total up to $400,000 for significant breaches and will be enforced through the Victorian Building Authority (VBA).

“This ban will ensure new developments are built to the highest standard to keep Victorians safe while we continue to rectify existing buildings through our world-first cladding rectification program,” Mr Wynne said.

The announcement has been met with cautious optimism from Master Builders Victoria (MBV), who said the change provided “certainty around what cladding products are deemed acceptable”, while also stressing it was “important to avoid any further changing of the goalposts” to avoid confusion for builders.

“Prior to this February 1 change, stringent processes had already been put in place to ensure the appropriate use of cladding products,” CEO of MBV Rebecca Casson said. “While this further change may simplify the process for future projects, it should be recognised that builders had abided by the previous changes that have been made to ensure the safety of cladding products.”

The Liberal opposition Minister for Planning Tim Smith, in comments reported in The Age, said that the VBA had “failed to keep Victorians safe” from high-risk cladding, adding there were still “literally hundreds of buildings” throughout Melbourne that could be deemed unsafe. “Instead of the Andrews government re-announcing a cladding ban on new buildings, why don’t they make existing buildings, that are clad in highly combustible material, safe?”

The state government’s own cost-benefit analysis indicated an annual $1 million economic gain due to reduced insurance costs.

The ban comes in lieu of the investigation conducted by the Victorian Cladding Taskforce, which was established in 2017 after combustible cladding exacerbated a blaze that caused 72 deaths in the Grenfell disaster in England, while high-risk cladding was also held responsible for the 2014 blaze at the Lacrosse building in Docklands.

“These products are a high risk when used inappropriately or installed incorrectly – that’s why we’ve acted to ban them for new multi-storey buildings,” Minister Wynne said.

In 2019, the government committed $600 million to the Cladding Rectification Program to fix buildings with high-risk cladding. However, there is still a lot of grey area as to who fronts the costs of the program, as it is dependent on the risk associated with the individual building’s cladding •

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