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Coroner to investigate fire

03 Sep 2015

Coroner to investigate fire Image

The Lacrosse apartment fire will be the subject of a coronial investigation, the Coroners Court of Victoria confirmed last month.

Earlier this year the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) called for the Coroner to investigate the November 25 fire, which cause more than $5 million worth of damage to the Docklands apartment building.

According to a spokesperson for the Coroners Court of Victoria, it is currently early in the investigation process but the Coroner’s investigators have been appointed and are preparing a brief.

While the coronial investigation continues, the mooted class action by Slater and Gordon will not be going ahead, with the firm writing to apartment owners to inform them it would not be pursuing legal action on their behalf.

“The committee of owners’ corporation (OC) is pursuing separate legal action on behalf of owners, as well as through its insurer, Chubb, to recover losses suffered as a consequence of the fire,” Slater and Gordon commercial and project litigation lawyer Ben Hardwick said.

“Our view is that it makes sense for the OC to co-ordinate the legal action and that this is the most effective approach for owners,” Mr Hardwick said.

Some 400 residents were evacuated from the building during the fire and many apartments incurred significant smoke and water damage. The apartments directly affected by the fire remain uninhabitable.

Fraser Main, the director of Lacrosse facilities management company Trevor Main Group said the current priority for owners was ensuring the tower was compliant with Australian building standards.

According to a City of Melbourne spokesperson, the building notices were progressively issued to owners from the start of June and require owners to set out what they intend to do to make their properties compliant.

Mr Main said Trevor Main Group had worked with Lacrosse builder LU Simon Builders to respond to the notices on behalf of the owners.

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is continuing its investigation into LU Simon Builders and the relevant building surveyor in relation to the use of non-compliant external cladding, which was found to have contributed to the spread of the fire.

Mr Fraser said the council was currently reviewing the submissions made in response to the “show cause” notices.

According to the council spokesperson, if the responses to the building notices are not satisfactory, the Municipal Building Surveyor can require the owners to undertake specified action.

According to Mr Main, it is both the owners’ and Trevor Main Group’s position that the owners would not be liable for expenses related to making the building compliant.

“The owners’ position is that the cost of that compliance would be paid for by the insurance policy or by those who were responsible for the design and construction,” Mr Main said.

He said any potential legal action would be pursued through the building’s insurer, Chubb, which is currently working with the OC.

In light of the Lacrosse fire, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has also pushed for the use of safer materials in high-rise buildings.

The push came while the Minister attended a building ministers’ forum in Melbourne on July 31.

Mr Wynne had put fire safety on the forum agenda following the November 2014 fire at the Lacrosse building in Docklands.  

In April, an MFB report found that combustible materials used in the external cladding of the building contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, which was started by a stray cigarette.

Mr Wynne said there must be action on high-risk building materials as a matter or priority to ensure lives were not being put at risk.

As a result, building ministers from each state and territory have agreed on key recommendations to address concerns.

“All the states have today recognised the need for a stronger building products accreditation system to help prevent fire tragedies in our high rises,” Mr Wynne said.

The recommendations include a move for the Australian Building Codes board to consider changes to the National Construction Code, requiring sprinklers on all balconies, regardless of size.

The board will also investigate options for a mandatory certification scheme for high-risk building products and will report back to the ministers within six months.

The move by the planning minister follows the announcement of a senate inquiry into imported building materials in June.

At the same time the VBA is also continuing its audit of cladding on 170 high-rise buildings to determine whether there has been further use of non-compliant cladding.

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