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August 09 Edition Cover

Lacrosse class action mooted

28 Apr 2015

Lacrosse class action mooted Image

A class action is on the cards and a construction company is under investigation after the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) last month released the outcome of its investigation into the Lacrosse apartment building fire.

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) will investigate construction company LU Simon and the building surveyor after the MFB found that non-compliant, combustible materials used in the external cladding of the building contributed to the spread of the fire.

Slater and Gordon commercial and project litigation lawyer Ben Hardwick said more than 100 Lacrosse residents and owners had contacted the firm.

Mr Hardwick said following the release of the MFB’s report, the Council was likely to issue building notices to owners, requiring them to replace external cladding or otherwise make the building safe.

“At this stage owners are completely in the dark as to how much these works are likely to cost,” Mr Hardwick said.

“Owners and residents understandably feel that they should not have to bear the cost of these works and should be compensated for the losses they have already suffered as a result of the fire.”

“We are investigating whether owners and residents have claims against the builder, who used the non-compliant Alucobest cladding and the relevant building surveyor, who issued the occupancy permit for the building,” Mr Hardwick said.

The fire, which took place in the early hours of November 25 last year, saw flames spread rapidly up the exterior of the building, causing around $5 million worth of damage and leading to the evacuation of more than 400 residents.

No one was seriously injured during the fire, but apartments and posessions sustained significant smoke, fire and water damage.Some residents were displaced from their homes for months.

According to MFB chief officer Peter Rau, CSIRO testing of the Alucobest external cladding used in the buiilding found that it did not comply with combustibility requirements for a high-rise building.

“The external cladding material on this building did not prevent the spread of the fire as required by the Building Code of Australia (BCA),” Mr Rau said.

Under the BCA the external walls of apartment buildings are not required to be fire-resistant if they are non-load bearing and are situated more than three metres from a fire source feature.

However, they are required to be non-combustible.          

Managing director of LU Simon Builders Peter Devitt said aluminium composite panels (ACP) such as Alucobest have been used widely in Australia and internationally. He said ACP conformed to Australian building codes and standards, including compulsory fire requirements.

“It was a requirement of the building contract that we use ACP and this was documented on the planning and building permits. A sample of Alucobest, clearly marked as such was submitted, which received written approval.”

He said ACP was compliant with tests for ignitability, spread of flame, heat and smoke. However, Mr Devitt said when the building was commissioned in 2010 there was no ACP that passed the test relating to combustibility.

The VBA’s director of technical and regulation Jarrod Edwards said the VBA was acting on the outcomes of the investigation into the fire.

“Based on the findings of the MFB’s investigation, the VBA has commenced an investigation into the conduct of the builder and building surveyor in relation to the Lacrosse building.”

Mr Edwards said the VBA would take steps to identify use of non-compliant cladding elsewhere.

“The VBA has begun contacting all relevant building practitioners and will work with them to determine if non-compliant building material has been used incorrectly during the construction of other buildings in Victoria,” Mr Edwards said.

If other buildings are found to be using non-compliant cladding product, the VBA will work with the local council and relevant building surveyor to resolve the issue.

A dedicated phone line (136 186) has been set up for anyone who is unsure if the external cladding used in their building is compliant.

Aside from determining what caused the rapid spread of the fire, the MFB’s investigations also uncovered what caused the fire to start.

According to the MFB’s report, the fire began accidently on an eighth floor balcony and was caused by a cigarette that had not been disposed of correctly.

The MFB found that a large amount of material stored on the balcony fuelled the fire and it then ignited the external cladding, spreading quickly up the building.

Mr Rau said fire fighters found high occupancy rates of residents in some of the apartments and excessive amounts of combustible material stored on the balconies.

The MFB also found that the emergency warning and intercommunications system failed during the fire, meaning some residents did not hear fire alarms or an emergency evacuation announcement.

However, the MFB found the building sprinkler system operated well above its designed capability and minimised damage to a number of apartments, where the fire spread from the balcony to the inside of the apartments.

As a result of the investigation, the MFB has recommended that designers and certifiers adopt building products with current certificates and ensure compliance with all conditions imposed on the certificates.

The MFB has also called for greater regulation of apartment occupancy rates and the possibility of sprinklers on all covered balconies.

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