HIGH RISE APARTMENT FEAR AFTER LONDON FIRE

Australian buildings are cloaked in “millions of square metres” of flammable cladding, and authorities have been aware of the safety threat since at least 2010. In the aftermath  of London’s apartment tower fire, the AGE newspaper revealed the BCA’S Board were told seven years ago.

“ONE SQUARE METRE OF CLADDING SAME ENERGY AS  FIVE LITRES OF PETROL”

Thousands of buildings in Sydney and Melbourne are feared to be covered in cladding similar to the

 

type blamed for causing the rapid spread of a deadly blaze in a West London high-rise block of flats.  While the cause of the fire is not yet known, residents and building experts have claimed flammable cladding installed last year enabled flames to tear through the building.

Today 24/6/17) Police also said they will consider manslaughter charges as part of their investigation and revealed that officers had “started seizing relevant documents” from a number of different organisations in the wake of the West London fire. Scotland Yard has issued a dramatic alert over materials used on the tower after samples caught alight easily during new independent tests.

West London Fire

An audit released by the Victorian Building Authority in February last year found half of 170 high-rise apartment blocks in Melbourne’s CBD didn’t comply with safety standards.  The audit was ordered after the Lacrosse building in Melbourne, which caught fire in 2014, and the owners and builders L.U. Simon have been ordered to remove the cladding by July of next year. Up to 2500 buildings in NSW could have cladding containing highly flammable material, while more than 20 high-rise residential blocks in Melbourne still don’t comply with safety laws more than a year after an audit found they weren’t safe.

As the VBA Audit has now been finalised, important lessons can be learned from the findings to inform future practices of the building industry, regulatory reform and consumer awareness. These findings include:

• The levels of non-compliance identified by the VBA are too high – however, they generally do not pose a risk to safety. Apart from the Lacrosse building, only one other building identified through the VBA Audit was deemed to pose a significant safety issue due to the non-compliant use of external wall cladding material;
• There are many types of external cladding material in use throughout the Victorian building industry but whether one is “fit for purpose” over another is not always properly understood by architects, designers, engineers, building surveyors and builders;
• The National BCA requirements for external walls, including the suitability of materials, are inconsistently applied and poorly understood; and
• No single category of practitioner involved in the design, approval or construction of those building projects audited is consistently responsible for the non-compliant use of cladding

 

Apartment Building Ablaze

But Insulation Australia chairman Scott Gibson believes the only way to ensure safety is to have better policing and an independent third body to test the safety of cladding, glazing, steel and insulation.  He fears there’s a proliferation of dodgy building products that may have been used during the recent apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne. “If I was living in a cladded apartment on the 20-something floor, I’d be worried,” he told AAP.

There have been growing concerns that current laws do not require fire-safety checks at the planning permit stage. Fire-safety elements are considered later during the building permit process, often once construction has begun.  Even then, fire checks are usually conducted by building surveyors rather than by fire authorities. The MFB gets involved only when invited to do so by the developer or if it decides on an investigation. Unless you have a vigilant observer or a whistle blower, we would not know about dangers until it was too late.

On one occasion  the MFB had to the use the freedom-of information laws to investigate the design of a high rise apartment complex on Doncaster Hill. After design flaws were found, the developer had to change plans until the fire brigade was satisfied that the development complied with requirements. The MFB’s discovery underscored findings of the Victorian auditor -general, who had analysed how closely the state’s builders followed the building code. Of 401 building permits examined, 96 per cent didn’t comply.

 

17 Responses to “HIGH RISE APARTMENT FEAR AFTER LONDON FIRE”

  1. Stewy says:

    We have had at least 5 false fire alarms in our building which resulted in everyone having to evacuate due to a faulty alarm sensor. This was most inconvenient, particularly for older people with a disability, because on most occasions it was in the early hours of the morning.
    This was different to the instructions given to the occupants of the Grenfell tower which was to remain in their apartments and the fire brigade would rescue them. One of the difficulties for the West London Fire Trucks was that they were hampered in reaching the fire due to a poor road access. A lesson to the planning department who persist in approving high density buildings in our narrow streets.

  2. Sheridan Lasky says:

    This cladding would have to have been tested and found unsafe by the fire compliance so how could they have passed it without there being corruption. We are now moving into an era where officials at the top can be bought. I have read the VBA audit and I now have concerns that we are not being told everything. It is laughable to suggest it is not happening here in Australia.

    • Cowper R says:

      Yep. It is everywhere look what happened with that senior officer of the tax department and the members of his family.
      They have continued to allow this type of cladding even after it was proven to have fueled the fire at the Lacrosse building perhaps now, after the tragic loss of life in the London fire, they might call a halt to its use.

  3. Summertime in Queens says:

    In the event of fire it will be a challenge to evacuate all the people from the top floors in these high rise apartments if they can only use the stairs. It may be too far to walk and take too long for some people who are physically impaired– but how else can you bring people out?

  4. Tarneit says:

    Non compliance, such as the installation of flammable cladding and the nearest stairwells exceeding the distance from apartments, we are told, can be offset with the inclusion of extra sprinklers but why would the authority not want the developers to adhere to the requirements when they have been put in place to save lives. Why are they allowing such a deadly form of external cladding..why not ban it altogether.

    • Fostershort says:

      The Labor government have just engaged two liberal ex-ministers to look into the cladding scandal. It is the usual practice for either party too employ the opposition where there is a contentious issue so as to quell any accusations of cronyism even though it could be done by any of the senior staff of the state planning Department.
      They are to report back to government within three months. On a salary understood to be in the order of $1,000 a day!

  5. East of Whittens says:

    The planning authorities could make vertical living safer by ensuring there are no flammable materials used in construction. Also they have ignored the need for open spaces that should be provided within a short walk of every apartment block otherwise the residents won’t use them. There is no incentive for those living in high rise to come down to street level unless they have to if there is nothing there for them.

    • Royrene says:

      Planning authorities should have done something about infrastructure before they embarked on this ill conceived strategy to double our population and house them in high rise ghettos. Instead our public transportation system is of a third world standard and the road network does not have the carrying capacity to cope.
      Now we are informed that the occupants of these sub-standard and under size apartments are now under threat because of the flammable materials being employed.
      What a mess!

      • Carbine says:

        Bob Carr said; “Australia digs up and sells raw materials”. “In the cities the economy is based on building apartment blocks and shopping malls,”
        “The idea of Australia as a clever country is a myth, it’s an illusion.”
        INFRASTRUCTURE CAN WAIT!

      • Anonyme says:

        Why the rush to double our population? Why not wait until we have the infrastructure to support it? Roads in gridlock, public transport a joke and hospital waiting lists extending.
        At least ten years before the partially funded metro tunnel is completed and the rail line to the airport could be a generation away.
        We had the vital east west link ready to start which would have been well under way by now, instead it was cancelled by a new government which has cost the community $1.1 Billion to do so.

  6. Concerned says:

    There is an ever increasing reliance on sprinklers to offset a non compliant element in an apartment high rise. My concern is about the extreme water pressure required to lift the water up to the higher floors without the pressure being too great without bursting the seals and valves on the bottom floors.
    I think, where ever possible, every development of this nature would require an emergency back up water tank at the TOP of the building wherever possible.
    However, an efficient sprinkler system does not mean it is open slather to install building materials that are highly flammable.

  7. Annette says:

    I was wondering whether anyone is thinking about Climate Change policy in terms of preventing over-development/loss of environmentally-friendly houses & gardens. If the developers are using population growth as a means to get things through VCAT, couldn’t we/Councils etc. use Climate Change? I believe it is now official policy at virtually all levels of government.
    I think it is something they’re going to have to address in practice not just theory. All very well having a policy, but if you’re continually increasing the ‘heat island’ effect through the increase in hard surfaces, and destroying what are essentially the ‘lungs’ of our city” , it doesn’t mean anything.

  8. Caroline says:

    There are too many small apartments in these high rise buildings which means there will be more people than what there should be packed into these towers. This will make it all the more difficult to evacuate the occupants in the event of an inferno.

  9. Boisy says:

    The fire authority guidelines say that streets, with parking either side, should be 8.1 meres wide to provide sufficient clearance for a MFB truck to attend apartment fires. Most of the streets and courts in Manningham, particularly the old estates around Doncaster Hill, are only 7 metres wide with most having no mountable kerbing.

  10. East of Whittens says:

    Is anyone aware that planning minister Wynne said it could not happen in Melbourne and the MFB do not agree with him.The Government have been told for some time about shoddy building practices but they seem unable to understand it or do anything to improve it because the pressure, not to ban it from Victoria’s high rise towers, from Asian developers is enormous.

  11. Edward H says:

    Developers and builders who use non compliant methods or materials are guilty of social murder, if anyone dies as a result of construction cost saving / non compliance. This intentional neglect of public safety is unprofessional, warranting lifetime bans from the building & development industry.
    Use of non compliant materials puts profit ahead of lives, as such, its a form of terrorism; the public do not know if a building is a fire-trap or not.

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