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We need a clear cladding policy – now!

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Does the public deserve to know where the illegal cladding is?

29 Jun 2017

Does the public deserve to know where the illegal cladding is? Image

By Shane Scanlan

The Grenfell tragedy in London has focused national attention again on Docklands and the issue of non-compliant, flammable aluminium building cladding.

After all, it was here in 2014 that the exterior of the Lacrosse building in LaTrobe St caught fire due to non-compliant cladding.

The risk in Britain is far greater, given the absence of internal sprinkler systems. But it’s worth noting that the British have already started removing non-compliant cladding while the owners of Lacrosse have been given until July 2018.

So how many other Docklands buildings are affected? The City of Melbourne won’t say. It says it is working with building owners’ corporations and it’s best to keep details secret to avoid people becoming alarmed.

The council is working on the last 17 buildings of 83 identified from a desktop audit conducted with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) after the Lacrosse fire. The VBA was dealing directly with six of the 83.

Once no further action is required to bring a building up to scratch, it is added to a public list published by the VBA. But the VBA also removes buildings from the list after some time, so there is no single public record of a building’s status.

Apart from Lacrosse, it appears that the building of most concern in Docklands is Exo Apartments on the corner of Merchant and Collins streets.

The City of Melbourne won’t talk about Exo and neither will its builder Lendlease. But Exo is one of four buildings on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s (MFB) heightened response list (along with Lacrosse and two others in Southbank).

Recent media reports of cladding due for removal from Travelodge in Aurora Lane would also indicate that it is also one of the 17 on the council’s secret list.

The council (and Lendlease for that matter) point out that no building is deemed unsafe to occupy.

But, given the seriousness of the issue, doesn’t the public have a right to know? Not everyone is an owners’ corporation executive member. What about other owner-occupiers? What about renters? What about hotel or short-stay apartment guests?

And what about the parents of children using The Harbour Family and Children’s Centre, which is on the VBA’s list? Were they told the facility was one of the buildings found to have non-compliant cladding? Probably not, as the staff did not even know it had been listed.

Like Exo, the City of Melbourne refuses to talk about the childcare centre. A spokesperson advised Docklands News to talk to the VBA about it.

But the building is also a council facility. The council runs the centre.

A VBA spokesperson said: “833–843 Bourke St Docklands (permit number 2008013) was audited and deemed non-compliant on November 24, 2015 and referred to the City of Melbourne on December 12, 2015.”

“The VBA received advice from the City of Melbourne on April 22, 2016 that the building was safe to occupy and no further action was required by the municipal building surveyor (MBS) – at which stage it was handed over to the VBA to work with the builder to bring the building into compliance.”

In answer to questions from Docklands News on June 20, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle defended the council’s approach.

“I don’t know how many are in Docklands. We don’t make those public. The people who are in the building know. Their owners’ corporations know. We want to protect against a public alarmist view,” Cr Doyle said.

“In fact, we’re working through this quite quickly. When this was first discovered, there were something like 170 buildings that were identified.”

Cr Doyle then went on to explain why the process was taking so long.

“There is a remarkably small number of qualified building surveyors who can do the necessary work because, of course, many of them worked on these buildings in the first place and it would be quite inappropriate for them to be doing evaluations of their own work,” he said.

“So the cross conflict of interest meant there was a very small pool of expertise was available. Most of that fell to the City of Melbourne and our municipal building surveyor, the statutory officer who works here.”

“Of the buildings that were referred to us, we have moved through, on a risk profile, down to the last 17. We are hopeful that they can be resolved in a relatively short period of time.”

“We have worked very co-operatively with building owners and, in most cases, compliance measures, even when initially disagreed, have then been agreed.”

“There’ll be a range of different possibilities for those last buildings.

We don’t want public alarm. If, however, we get to a point with some of those in the last 17 where there is a dispute about what would make a building compliant, we would be prepared to pursue that legally and, in that case, those buildings would be publicly identified.”

Other Docklands buildings to appear on the VBA list (meaning no further action is required) include The Quays, apartments above Harbour Town Shopping Centre and the AMP building on the corner of Batman’s Hill Drive and Collins St.

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